• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #14: The Rusty Hammer, Portsmouth


Ghosts of Hammerfests Past

We all have our tribes, and some of us are fortunate enough to belong to several. One of the families I feel lucky to belong to is the ever-expanding cast of characters of RYLA staff from coastal New Hampshire and Maine. RYLA is the Rotary's youth leadership training program, and the one conducted in our local District 7780 is one of the best in the world. Every year about 120 high school kids from Hampton to Boothbay Harbor spend a week in the Maine woods, working on their leadership skills and learning about service. It's a phenomenal program, one I can't do justice to in a paragraph. I wish Raymond, Maine was across the border in the 603 so I could do an entire post just on how much Camp Hinds has meant to me over the years.

Back to the Rusty Hammer, the pub and eatery at the corner of Pleasant and State in downtown Portsmouth. It's long been one of my favorite restaurants (the Squealing Wimpy a classic) - during my time with Citizens Bank it was a frequent lunchtime office, and Sarah threw a surprise 30th birthday party for me there a million years ago. But the deepest root is what we used to call HammerFest, the annual Thanksgiving Eve gathering of RYLA staff, our celebratory family reunion at the midway point between one camp season and the next. We began in 2002 (more on that later), and then from 2003 to 2009 some portion of the staff and staff emeriti met for food and fellowship and frustrated waitstaff. It was part of the glue that helped hold together a remarkable assemblage of young talent, some of the finest people I know, many of whom remain my closest friends to this day. As with so many other things, the practice petered out in 2010 when Sarah and I began our long exile, but I cherish the memories of laughter and love.

One more tale of the Hammer places it at the very center of my heart, and earns it this spot on Valentine's Day. As I said, we began the practice on December 23, 2002 (it was moved to November the next year), though with a small group - just me, Andy Wood, and Steph Frigon (then Webber). A latecomer was Sarah Pace (then Foss), a driven and serious Tufts senior who only decided to come at the last moment. I'm glad she did - that gametime decision led to our first date, and all that came after. The best things can come from humble beginnings. And Squealing Wimpys.

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