I adore the people of Salem, Massachusetts. Flat out adore them. I have been coming to this town via library ships since 1995 and via plane or automobile since 2006—thanks to the generous hospitality of dear friends who call Salem home, plus one signal institution that began as a project of the East India Society in 1799, the PEM (Peabody Essex Museum). Technically (and actually), Salem is a city, but it shall ever remain a seafaring and thus global ‘town’ in my history-hobbled heart. I am writing a great deal more about the people of Salem and Essex County in a book project now, because they created the ship on which much of my historical research is centered (US Frigate ESSEX), but for today I just have to say this one thing to something besides my fieldnotes:
The people of Salem are signally friendly and welcoming, curious and happy to converse (and not simply in superficial ways), and they approach the world in a wide-armed and congenial manner that makes of even the rankest stranger—irrespective of social class or ethnicity or profession or religion or nationality or quirks of personality—a neighbor and friend. Working people here run the gamut from the very wealthy to the very not, and fine neighborhoods are still dotted—deliberately so—with more affordable housing, so that, on even the least errand you meet folks from all walks of life, nearly all of whom make eye contact and exchange genial greetings and sometimes long talks. This kind of stance is a downright rarity in these united states at this point in time (or ever), so it deserves mention. Notice. Emulation, to at least some extent.
I treasure each one of the days I have been privileged to spend in Salem. For a southern Mississippi farm girl raised far from the sea but born into a small community called Friendship, I have found myself at home in Salem in unexpected ways. These people’s nows are rooted in their long past of plying trade routes across the world’s oceans, and it shows, for they have made of diversity this community’s life-blood. We could use more Salems—of this particular ilk—in our world.