I live in an old mill town, population around 7,000, in Upstate New York. Our town’s first settler arrived in 1762, and our second arrived a year later and built the first lumber mill here on the Hudson River. There has been mill activity here on the falls ever since.
Our location on the river, with access to railroad lines and the Champlain Canal system made this an active town until recent years. Most of the mills have now gone, and we have become a town worn out and worn down. You know the type-two Rite Aids on the same road a mile from each other…two Family Dollar stores, again on the same road, a mile from each other…old dive bars, too many liquor stores, and a very busy Soup Kitchen.
But despite the depressed economy, we are not a depressed people and there are things to be proud of. We have six active churches of different denominations all in the heart of the town. Our schools are beautiful and modern, well staffed and well loved, with the best computer technology in the area. Our town circle is a source of pride and a gathering place for all. Our school enrollment, after years of dropping, is on the rebound. Young families are moving in or moving back, choosing here to make a life. Old homes are being bought and fixed and converted back to single homes from apartment buildings. There is a strong sense of community—we know our shortcomings, but we have pride in who we are and where we come from.
I grew up here, as did my Mother. I spent my teaching career working in my old elementary school. The first classroom I taught in was my first grade classroom as a six year old. My first boss, my principal, had been my sixth grade teacher. My children now sit in these classrooms. Living in my hometown is a treasure. A lifetime of memories are everywhere I look. Even more priceless is the fact that my parents live 4 minutes in one direction and my sister, 2 minutes in the other. Zan’s brother lives just down the hill, and passes by at least twice a day with a “beepbeep!” I can’t tell you how cool it is to have Mister run to the window every time he hears his car horn, yelling, “HI UNCLE TOPH!!!!” through the glass.
That is the true meaning of home to me…not the place, but the people. They are why we stay.
So, here it is…my hometown. I share with you, not necessarily the prominent buildings, or the historical monuments, but the places that make this MY hometown….
Here is the apartment building where I grew up until the age of 12…we lived right around the corner from my grandparents. We saw them everyday. We were so close that we could see their porch from our porch. Mom would flash the porch light when we arrived home so my grandfather knew we had made it home safely. The place never had a claim to beauty in my lifetime, but some of my best memories come from this little apartment. Just a month ago, they removed a berry tree that had made my feet purple all summer long. (If you look very carefully along the left edge of the frame, you’ll see the stump.) I remember my Mom taking watered down bleach to my feet nightly, trying (and failing) to get the stains off the soles.
And the alleyway where I learned to ride a bike…I swear all those potholes were there 30 years ago.
This stone wall is on Main Street, and I remember the balance challenge it presented whenever I walked down to the local market to get milk.
And this is the first house I ever loved. When I was a little girl, I wished I could live there. I have more to tell about this house, but it will have to wait for a later post.
This is the home my parents built when I was 12…I spent the rest of my childhood here. It was in the same town, but a completely different neighborhood. It was new, big, and beautiful, but I never forgot where I came from. I’ve always been “that girl from the poor end of town” in my heart.
They built here because of this view:
See those mountains way over there? That’s where Zan grew up. And see that tree in the middle and those lovely cars and campers down there???? They were not there when my parents built the house, and they wouldn’t be now if my Dad had anything to say about it. 🙂
And this is the street where I spent all my summers, hanging out with my cousins playing street ball. Their house was the gathering place, and all the neighborhood kids would come. I still remember yelling, “CAR! car! CaR! caR!” and we’d all move to the sides and wave to the passersby. Most drivers would wave, some would scold, but we were never disrespectful, unlike the kids today.
And here is my Church. I grew up attending this Church…I was married here, my babies were Christened here, and it is here that I can find peace when everywhere else it is elusive.
A tour of my hometown isn’t complete without referring to my Dear Neighbors who help make this place un-leavable.
And finally, these steps lead to the house I call home…in my hometown, surrounded by the people I love.