It’s a cold town, this Grafton. Cold as the ice that holds the lake in thrall. Cold as the snow that banks the streets. Cold as the hopes that come here to die at 10 at night, when not a store is open. Cold as the light that flickers through my car windows as I drive down the strip.
O the promises, the broken dreams! I flash back to the room that had held me captive for lo so many hours — it was green, the green they paint cells to soothe prisoners, and it was filled with people talking about lights. There was a lawyer — there’s always a lawyer — who spoke of this scene.
His name was Joseph Antonellis, a hired gun from far-off Milford. The Grafton Suburban Credit Union asked him to take on a tricky bit of business — it seems they looked at the signs of their neighbors and had come to covet what they had. They looked at Gaudette Insurance, with its time and temperature and flickering messages. They looked at Koopman’s Lumber and Fitzy’s Car Wash, just a stone’s throw from their own doors which were, themselves, illuminated by the flickering signs and, yes, they had come to covet.
But all was not well with these signs. These high-tech beacons with their time and temperature and promises of a quick car wash or a sale on road salt were, in fact, in the wrong. Not in their basic facts — the time and temperature were somewhat accurate to a degree, the sale was in fact happening — but in their legality.
According to the town’s zoning laws, these signs should not exist.
And so the lawyer came before the Board of Selectmen with a proposal: the bank would like a sign, too. But before it would commission this creation, this new beacon beckoning customers to re-finance their mortgages or join the new Christmas Club, it suggested that the town first amend its zoning by-laws to make such signs legal.
Legal! It’s enough to make a person believe a thaw might someday come to this cold landscape.
The Milford man looked to his own town for an example of a sign that would not be allowed in fair Grafton: the flashing monstrosity erected by the Correctional Officers Union (O the nights when my eyes were dazzled by the flash! Correctional officers were injured by inmates! Flash! It’s Girl Scout Cookie time! Flash!). Grafton’s amendment would not allow this frequent message change. It would not allow the scrolling. It would allow a message change every 10 seconds — enough time for a driver to read without distraction.
And Selectmen spoke fondly of their dreams for a simpler Grafton, without these bright signs and down the road, in the dark night broken by dazzling lights, the strip laughed. You do not turn back time. Existing businesses would have to take down their signs, should this not pass; they would have to re-apply should it make its way through Planning Board and Town Meeting.
How will the story end? It’s unknown. This tale will end on a much warmer night in May, in a room heated by packed bodies and overheated emotions.
But that’s a long way away. It’s nighttime. A cold night, filled with lights.