If Lancaster claims the title of Mothertown (and you just ask them if you think it doesn’t), Mendon must be called the Auntie Town (not the anti-town – it is very much all Town and all Pro). Mendon is the younger sister who stayed close to home and never forgot where she came from. Yesterday I spent the entire day there, proving that it could be done.
The Tarleton twins, who renew their passports before crossing 128, would rebrand Worcester County as “WoCo,” as urban sophisticates do, if they thought Central Massachusetts cared about attracting crowds outside of the 6 weeks of apple season. WoCo doesn’t particularly care. We do have some gems, if you are just willing to drive a little farther.
Begin your visit to Mendon at Southwick’s Zoo, “New England’s Largest Zoo,” which isn’t saying particularly much, but there are plenty of animals to look at, from camels to porcupines – neither of which I have ever encountered in the wild.
I have mixed feelings about zoos – not conflicted ones, because they do not conflict. I know we should be down on zoos because they are animals in captivity, African animals living in the snows of New England, eating corn on the cob for the most part, which can not have any real nutritional value, and pacing back and forth because they would rather be eating us and each other. I agree there is a certain downer element to zoos, and while I am not at all against them, I wouldn’t join a national movement to stop their closure. On the other hand, if you think they don’t have educational value, you have not heard a grown man stare at a kangaroo and ask what it was, only to have his 8 year old son guess “…rabbits?”
All that said, I just really dig watching animals, and I have a longer tolerance for watching a flamingo preen itself than most people who might accompany me on such a field trip. 175 acres is not Disney World, but I put in about 3 hours there.
You want to get to a zoo before the heat, when the animals are more active. The trade-off (or bonus) is seeing that other rare creature in the wild, the Quiverful HomeSchoolers. They are up and out well before nine, because there are not enough chairs in the house, and outings are so educational. By the end of the day, you will know the name of every kid in the park (“Nicky, Nicky, come back here and watch Chloe. Chole, stay with David. David, where are your shoes? Marty has them? Nick, Nicky….”) You can see why I could find a peaceful half hour just staring at an ostrich.
Southwick retains its Trolley Track Park roots by offering kiddie rides, pony rides, and camel rides. I weigh too much to ride a camel. The humiliation. Fortunately, they do not weigh you. No one has to know. I would have tried the elephant ride, but Southwick’s beloved Dondi passed away this summer. Stand around a while and listen to the different ways parents answer, “where is the elephant?”
We have only just begun our village tour. Have your midday meal at the Miss Mendon Diner, “nestled” on the grounds of the giant Imperial Auto Mile. You may not see it from the road, so know where you are going ahead of time. Every diner has a story, and Worcester County is proud that the dining car was born here. You know the Miss Worcester from Zippy – or maybe you never noticed.
It’s hard to notice everything while you’re trying to figure out what a Zippy strip is talking about.
At the Miss Mendon, it’s counter, booth, outdoor, breakfast all day, beer in bottles, 45s on the walls, everything you expect about a diner. I had the steak and cheese, though the waitresses were pushing the tortellini carbonara quite hard. Open until 10. You might pick a cruise night, if you enjoy that sort of thing. It’s always funny to me how we associate diners with all-things 50s. You never see a diner tricked out in, say, the 1920s, or USO/GI WWII, or even the 1800s, when they were invented. I’d like a Grover’s Corners soda shop with boater hats and johnny cakes (whatever those are).
There are a few antique shops on Rts 16 and 85, a few yard sales on side streets, or you can pass the time in one of the parks or ponds located nearby. In the days of diners and boater hats, locals recreated at Nipmuc Lake – still lovely, but far less Georges Seurat than it had been in “them days.” The Ballroom is still in operation, but now for private functions.
I chose the West Hill Dam area. This is a federal project property that stands by in case the valley needs controlled flooding. The rest of the time, it is just a valley and some gravel trails. I had hiked the other side of it once, where there is a disc golf course (more of those around than you think). On this trip I found a comfortable bench – the proper kind that encourage people to stay, not the ones that encourage you to move on. And for a couple of hours read and napped, and listed to the conversations of joggers who couldn’t see me from where they were. excellent.
We are getting to the centerpiece of the visit – the closing bookend of one’s day in Mendon. The Twin Drive-In closed for the season. My GPS pronounces it “Mendon Drive, Indiana.” Yet she gets annoyed with me… A few things have changed about the Drive-In experience – cars are taller now, for one thing, which is some BS. Mendon makes them park in the back, and they don’t go willingly. This is another hot-spot for the big families; with a $20 per car charge and a seats-9 mini van, all your shipboard fun is included!
Speaking of Disney World, that snack bar is a marvel of food service management. if you think these kids today are a bunch of foot-dragging slackers, you have not seen the kind of hustle they put on at the Mendon Drive (Indiana), or the Mega-Maze, or even at the Clinton DQ, where the parking situation does not lend itself to crowd control.
There were no more t-shirts in my size, so better luck next year. Photos coming soon to a greeting card near you. Happy Autumn, America.