We liked it that way

An old man sits hunched at the wheel of his ancient, rusted Mercedes-AMG GT with twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8. His face is wrinkled, his frame withered. He scowls.

“Why are you scowling, Grandpa?”

The old man works his jaws and runs his rubbery tongue over his toothless gums.

“This place makes me sad,” he rasps. “And mad.”

“Ipswich?” the little boy whimpers. “I thought you’ve always loved Ipswich!”

“I don’t mean all of Ipswich,” the old man grumbles. “Just this place. This part, little Dougie. This one part we’re looking at, right here, right now, you and me.”

The little boy looks out through the cloudy, pockmarked old windshield.

“Grandpa, it doesn’t look bad to me. Why would it make you sad or mad?”

“Ah, they ruined it!” the old man growls. “Back in 2023. Before you were even born.”

The little boy’s eyes open wide as he peers at their surroundings. “Was it wonderful before?”

The old man pushes away from the steering wheel, leaning back with a heavy sigh on the cracked gray leather of the driver’s seat.

“We called it Five Corners,” he says, his voice wavering wistfully.

The little boy squints, his head swiveling to take in the whole scene. “I only see four corners, Grandpa.”

The old man turns, his face suddenly breaking into a smile, facing the boy. “You’re so observant, little fella! You take it all in, you see it like it is. Just like I did at your age. No wonder they named you after me.”

“But why did they call it Five Corners,” the boy asks, “if it only had four corners?”

“They ruined it!” the old man thunders. His palms pound the steering wheel, and the boy flinches.

But then the boy composes himself and tries another question.

“Why did they change it, Grandpa?”

“Not change!” the old man roars. “Ruination!

The little boy is full of pity as he looks at his grandfather. He can see the old eyes glistening with melancholy memories.

“Those were the days,” Grandpa says, his voice dropping off almost to a whisper. “People communicated with each other back then. They looked each other in the eye, from their vehicles. They waved their hands, they wiggled their fingers. They came to some unspoken agreement. It was the only way to get through Five Corners. It was tradition. It was how things were done. People who didn’t reach out, who didn’t participate in the norms of our community, they paid the price. We had people stuck on Market Street for hours trying to turn left onto Central. And we liked it that way. Some drivers on North Main hoping to cross the intersection southbound finally formed a new religion where you prayed for divine protection and just eased into traffic and took your chances.”

The little boy feels a lump forming in his throat.

“But Grandpa, things were so beautiful back then — why would they, uh, ruinate it?”

The old man looks away from the boy, out over the curled edges of his faded beach sticker.

Make it more compact, someone said. More like a standard four-way where two roads meet. Improve capacity, someone said. Improve placemaking. What the heck is placemaking?”

Little Dougie frowns skeptically. “I don’t know. Is that a rhetorical question?”

“The side street on Town Hill used to be one-way coming downhill,” Grandpa grouses. “Now it’s one-way going uphill. That’s just wrong. It’s against nature.”

The little boy frowns, not quite understanding.

“And a traffic light!” the old man goes on. “A modern, electronic, totally non-historical traffic light! John Winthrop Jr. never needed a traffic light, did he? What do we need with a traffic light?”

Little Dougie looks up at the traffic light.

“It’s green, Grandpa.”

Grandpa guns the Mercedes. The little boy’s head bounces off the back of his seat.

“In the old days,” Grandpa mutters, “we’d still be stuck back there. And we’d like it that way.”


Doug Brendel lives so far west in Ipswich, you have to navigate Five Corners, Lord’s Square, and the Route 1 intersection to get there. Find Doug somewhere between here and Hood Pond, at DougBrendel.com.

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