Yankee humorist, raconteur, country bumpkin, vice president, TV host, storyteller and after-dinner speaker. Who is this man? Some of you may know. See if you can figure it out by the end of this story.
The country bumpkin comes out when our primary subject, or suspect, whichever you prefer , takes on the role of Norbert Twichell, a spinner of country yarns.
“Norbert Twichell holds a certificate in milking and manure management, and is licensed to sharpen pulpwood hooks,” says the East Greenwich man, whose alter ego is the famous N.T. He has a twinkle in his eye as he puts forth this piece of information.
“Twichell, as a rural Mainer extraordinaire, had a formal education that only lasted eight years, the last three being spent in the fifth grade,” explains our EG friend with a straight face.
Twichell’s tales are delivered in a broad Maine accent, stretching some syllables to the limit. Atrhur becomes Ahhhhhthuh, while names of Maine’s rivers and towns rumble through the stories.
“Ken’bec River, Skowhegan Faiah (Fair), Sum’set County.” The tone and cadence of the speech make the listener believe that the speaker is Norbert Twichell of Andover, Maine.
Actually, the speaker was born and raised right here in Rhode Island and attended schools in East Greenwich and Warwick.
An accomplished raconteur, the EG man, in the role of Norbert Twichell, transports his audience to rural Maine where he regales them with yarns of country folks and country ways. Sort of a New England Garrison Keiller of Lake Wobegone fame. He tells tales of farm animals, fishing, and boys growing up with the freedom of fresh air life.
He pokes a good deal of fun at “city folk” and their strange ways.
The contrast between “our hometown boy” and Twichell is astonishing. Our man is an educated, well-spoken, suave and dapper businessman. Norbert Twichell is a folksy country bumpkin, who peppers his speech with “ain’t” and “ayuh.” His red union suit shows under his flannel shirt and he wears a floppy red felt hat.
Outwardly the only thing the two have in common is the crimson suspenders. But, at heart, both love a good story, which seems to be a common bond among many East Greenwicher. Maybe people of all stripes period.
Norbert and his altar ego have appeared at reunions, seminars, receptions, corporation gatherings, and grange functions. Sometimes he attends the event in a conservative business suit as a guest, then ducking out only to reappear in checked shirt and logging pants.
Yankee humor comes naturally. Both his frandfather and his father were storytellers. “I tell some stories I’ve known forever,” he says. “We called them [last name] lies.” Other stories come from reading the news and observing people.
“There are no new stories,” he says, “just different conditions. I try to personalize my stories [sound like anyone else you know?] and my presentation, and adapt them to my audience.”
“Norbert” often procures information about audience members in advance so he can work the idiosyncrasies of his listeners into the stories he is telling. Golfers, tightwads and Harvard graduates often find themselves being gently lampooned as they listen to an after-dinner program presented by Norbert.
When not portraying Norbert, our man was busy traveling the country as vice president of facilities management for Amica Mutual Insurance Company of Providence.
The real Norbert made his home on Dalehill Drive here in East Greenwich, the small town in the smallest state in the country making itself great again.
He claims that his children are also good storytellers so the family tradition continues and will be upheld for years to come.
“It’s good to make people laugh,” he says. “The world needs more laughter.”
Author’s Note: Have you people figured out who Norbert is? Peter T. Gammons, Jr.!
His grandfather was John A. “Daff” Gammons and his father was Peter, Sr. Those stories from his predecessors were known as “Gammons lies.”
I wrote this piece for EG Magazine in 1992. Pete is living in Maine now – just like his alter ego Norbert.
Hope you enjoyed this little departure. My files are so extensive, I fear I may never get through them. If the Big Guy lets me last until I finish them all, I may be here forever. If you believe in forever, then life is just a one night stand.
Be real careful out there and care for one another.
Bruce Mastracchio grew up and lives in East Greenwich, where he experienced those 28-hour days and 8-day weeks that contained the magic that made his hometown so special. Included in all that were the numerous characters that added color to the local life and produced many of Bruce’s remarkable stories.