Longtime newcomer Gary Patton shares his love of New Hampshire
PORTSMOUTH — Author Gary Patton's first impression of Granite Staters pertained to their self-awareness of being from New Hampshire, and therefore of being unique.
Patton was born in Wisconsin and raised in Illinois, earned his undergraduate degree in Indiana and taught for 28 years in western Pennsylvania before retiring to Hampton with his wife about 17 years ago.
In 2000, he began sharing his observations about Granite State life, characters and weather in columns for local newspapers and online news sites.
After several years of writing, Patton realized he might have enough material to create a book and that the material might just be funny enough for people to read.
Tom Holbrook of RiverRun Bookstore agreed, and worked with Patton through the store's publishing arm, Piscataqua Press, to bring "Outtastatahs: Newcomers' Adventures in New Hampshire" to life.
Patton said the process was informal, personal and local, facilitating communication between him and the publisher, and allowing the author ample input into the book's autumn 2013 publication, from choosing the cover photo to determining the number of copies to print.
Local humorist and author Rebecca Rule provides the cover comment about the book, stating the collection of "quirky, eccentric, wacky essays and stories about life in the Granite State" made her ponder, smile and laugh out loud.
Just about anyone familiar with New Hampshire will find the humor in "Outtastatahs."
Patton organized the collection by season, starting with his first Portsmouth First Night celebration, on a night so cold "the spire of the North Church was wearing a scarf over its face" and "hot chocolate sold at Breaking New Grounds turned into fudgsicles." He goes on to expound on everything from summer tourism to rabid Red Sox fans and the joys and pitfalls of autumn leaves.
Weather is a central character in many of the stories, as it is in many of the stories ever told about New Hampshire.
When Patton first told colleagues and friends he planned to move to New Hampshire after retirement, they responded, "Don't you know it's cold up there."
Familiar with Massachusetts from his years as a graduate student at Tufts University, Patton did not want to move back to the Bay State.
"We knew about Massachusetts, and we liked it, but it was and still is expensive," he said.
Patton and his wife, Lenore, visited Portsmouth on the recommendation of one of his graduate students, and they immediately fell in love with the little Seacoast city and the quirky nature of New Hampshire's inhabitants.
Once they'd relocated, Lenore joined the Seacoast Newcomers Club, and the couple quickly made friends.
But they're still Outtastatahs.
"It is typically New England," Gary Patton said of their standing in the community. "You can be a newcomer all of your life."
Patton spent 28 years teaching experimental psychology — the research area of the field — so before retiring and moving to New Hampshire, his writing had been focused on academic research and published mainly in "known but to God" publications.
"It was an entirely different sort of thing," he said.
Writing about New Hampshire, Patton said, has given him perspective on other areas of the country where he has spent time.
"People don't say 'I'm an Illinois guy' or a 'Wisconsin guy,' but when you come to New Hampshire, people kind of have an idea of what you should be," he said. "In a lot of states, people don't selfidentify. They don't know who they are; they just live there."
He said people in New Hampshire have an idea of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate, and will say so if asked. Whereas someone from New York might just pop off an opinion, he said, people from New Hampshire are more reserved.
"But if you ask," he added, "you'll get an unabashed answer."
Among Patton's other observations: Where he grew up in the Midwest, if someone's feelings are hurt, it might be impossible to find out why. And where his daughter lives in Dallas, Texas, strangers regularly say hello to each other on the street.
"They tend to be very open and gregarious," he said of his daughter's fellow Texans, "not, in that sense, like New Englanders."
Patton said that with two-thirds of New Hampshire residents being non-natives, they will have little basis for criticism of his depictions of the state's characters, from the repertory troupes of every town meeting ever held here to the long line of opponents to all forms of taxes. In fact, he said, many may recognize reflections of their own neighbors.
"Outtastatahs: Newcomers' Adventures in New Hampshire" is available at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, Water Street Bookstore in Exeter and Gibson's Bookstore in Concord.