Nativity Seen

10Dec10

Being a Wakefield native isn’t what it used to be.

Not so very long ago, being able to say that you were born and raised here was seen as something special – a distinction that one could lord over those who moved here, for example, a mere 20 years ago (tourists).
Welcome to Wakefield

Of course, it’s always been an unearned distinction, conferred by parents at birth by happenstance of geography. There are those who would argue that since the virtual extinction of home births in the last generation or so, there are no more true Wakefield natives being minted. All birth certificates list the town where the hospital birth took place, making many of us technically natives of Melrose or Winchester.

But it has long been viewed as merely that – a technicality. It’s not held against you that there’s no hospital located in Wakefield. If your parents resided here when you were born, you were a native.

However you look at it, though, being a native of Wakefield doesn’t carry the cachet that it once did. Sure, in political ads you’ll still see “lifelong Wakefield resident” listed as a qualification, so it still carries weight in some circles.
Hiker Monument - Wakefield, MA

But while being born here and choosing to stay can be an indicator of institutional knowledge and loyalty to the town, just as often nativity confers no such qualities. And a conscious and informed decision to move here and choose to stay can be at least as good an indication of commitment to the town as the mere accident of birth.

That being said, if you find yourself living in Wakefield, you might as well act as though you know your way around. Talking like a native is a good way to blend in. That doesn’t mean adopting the local accent so much as simply mastering the local nomenclature.

A prime example is the statue on the Rockery. This isn’t Lexington and it’s not Concord, so don’t refer to the statue of the soldier with the rifle as “The Minuteman.” Its correct name is “The Hiker.” You are not required to know that the statue honors those who fought in the Spanish American War and is one of fifty similar statues around the country created by sculptor Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson. (Hint: the “Rockery” is located across Common Street from Artichokes, formerly the YMCA.)
Wakefield Common - Wakefield, MA
And that structure sitting in the middle of the Lower Common? If you refer to it as “the gazebo” you might as well walk around with a map in one hand and a camera hanging off your shoulder. Historically speaking, “the pagoda,” is marginally more acceptable. But if you want to sound like a Wakefieldian, call it “the Bandstand.”

128 signsThat six-lane highway that runs though Wakefield? It’s called Route 128 – period, end of discussion – no matter what the maps and the GPS’s say. From Canton to Cape Ann and especially in Wakefield, we call it Route 128, or better yet, simply “128.” Remember, “95” is for tourists – hopefully on their way out of town.

And the street that runs from Exit 39 to the Junction, parallel with the commuter rail tracks? It’s North Ave., not “Northern Avenue” or “North Street.”
Americal Civic Center
And speaking of the Junction, here are a couple of more ways to increase your Wakefield cred, even if they are a bit disingenuous. You can “accidentally” refer to the Americal Civic Center as the “Armory.”

But even better, if you refer to the area around the intersection of North Ave. and Main Street as “the Junction,” I guarantee that no one will ever ask to see your birth certificate.

[This column originally appeared in the December 9, 2010 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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