Monday, November 29, 2010

Hometown

A few weeks ago Gal Friday (and every other day of the week) escorted me to my 50-year high school class reunion back home in Ilion, NY.  This small village is one of four, strung together like links of sausage,  in a fertile lowland area of upstate NY named the Mohawk Valley.  This historical region played pivotal roles in the formation of our nation during revolutionary times, the civil war period and its expansion and industrialization.

What a wonderful time and place to grow up.  In my particular case, please notice I didn't say mature, just grow up.  The 1940's and 50's proved prosperous for the Remington Arms and Remington Typewriter companies, the two major employers in the village.  Employment was high and people were happy.  Patriotism ran rampant and during WWII Ilion sold more war bonds per capita than any other place in the US.  Much of this was due to the fact that the village's young men either served in a branch of service or were employed at either the "Arms" and the ""Typerwriter" as the locals call them,  manufacturing guns and ammunition for the military.  The kids of my age grew up with a strong sense of pride in our country.

Education also topped the list of priorities in Ilion as taxpayers could attest.  My classmates were indeed fortunate to recive their A,B,C's and beyond from such an elite group of educators who ruled the classrooms of our schools.  Of course, like typical waifs of any era, we belittled them, but also truthfully trusted and respected these teachers.

Ilion was not a place of have and have nots; we were all "middle class" with some a little more "middle" than others.  All my friends basically came from the same socio-economic status as me and in retrospect, I think this helped to mold some long-lasting friendships.  And long-lasting friendships are something I'm blessed with.  Through the years it's great to form new friendships and I'm lucky enough to have done so, but  my "old buddies," regardless of gender, will remain my closest compadres.  Until I recently moved from Tennessee, we had 6  close high school chums living within a 5-mile radius and a few more a couple of hours away.  This didn't "just happen;" we all made conscious decisions to come together in later life.  Some others say this is amazing, but not me -  I believe it's simply a result of true friendship.  Many of these people I've known from kindergarten or before and they still talk to me.  Now THAT is amazing.

We all roamed the streets unafraid and enjoyed the freedom of unlocked doors, friendly policemen, and each other's parents watching out for our welfare.  In comparison to today's culture, we "had it made."  At school we didn't deal with student and teacher shootings,  AIDS or  drugs.  Our major concerns were talking in class, chewing gum and running in the halls.  Oh yeah, I forgot, missing the wastepaper basket was a biggie too.

Almost every student graduated and a high percentage continued into higher education.  All my buddies finished at least four years of college and live productive and honorable lives.  I too, earned my college degree, but I hesitate to claim an honorable life.

Although now a bone fide member of what economists call the "Rust Belt," my return to Ilion still brightened my year.  Colorful leaves from the distinguished old hardwoods still filled the streets; the neatly mowed lawns were still as  lush green; and the natives --  still as friendly.  The mighty Mohawk river continues to meander through the rolling hills like a blue ribbon of sparkling contentment and the old statues still remind the citizenery of a revered history  Oh sure, others can see the sores of today's economy, but in my eyes too many terrific memories blind me from these ugly sights.  No, to me Ilion will always remain an idyllic place filled with wonderful people.  Is that so bad?

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