This morning I decided to write from my head and heart. Writing prompts are excellent tools but often can lead us away from telling our own story. I’m going to add a new category to my archives named “Unanswered Questions”. Especially on Sundays, when the demands on my time are fewer, I lie awake in the morning and reminisce. I find I have so many questions that are unanswered. Most are unanswerable. The people, places, and certainly, the atmosphere of my past, have changed… many are gone. I’ve changed too, of course. Change isn’t a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing. It’s an inevitable one. Our memories are ‘spotty’ and tend to be sugarcoated if you’re a ‘dreamer’. But each of us can come up with questions we’d ask if we could address the past. So, here’s my first: Where did you go?
My hometown was once a bustling small city that was built by factories. Most Massachusetts towns in the 50s had the same heartbeat.
Our booming city once had a population of about 22,000. Today, it is just under 13,000. Where did everyone go? Why did you leave?
I have come to realize that I am a member of a rare group. I still live in the same city where I was born and also my father was born here too. Incidentally, I married a hometown man whose family set up stakes here at the same time mine did. (Our fireside chats are wonderful ones based on our shared roots. We were witnesses to the same heartbeat and changes.)
In an interest to keep this post short and to the point, I’ll take one single thread of many to follow. I’m sure my hometown will be a part of many topics in this new category because it’s a BIG part of me.
Gangs of kids roamed the streets and filled the neighborhood schools, in our day. The ‘gangs’ were mostly made up of kids having fun not what it currently brings to mind. City sponsored ice skating rinks and playgrounds were frequented. The average family had at least 3 children, but I’d bet the median number was 5. It was easy to put together an impromptu game of football or ‘kick the can’. I cannot remember any single-parent households back then. It just wasn’t a “thing”. The movie A Christmas Story could have been based on my own experience minus that large department store… that was coming to my neighborhood later on.
Our city streets were once alive with shoppers visiting local specialty shops at Christmas. There was a shoe store, a music store, a 5 and 10 store, a sporting goods store, drug stores, jewelry stores, etc. that lined a beautifully decorated main street of brick buildings. We still say “going to the market” when we head to the grocery store here too. Churches of many denominations were everywhere. One nickname for our city was “Steeple Town” because of some grand cathedral-like structures with 25′ ceilings.
But something happened. It was probably gradual, but our city seemed to change overnight. Today North Adams has almost no resemblance to the city from my childhood. Many buildings have been torn down and saltbox chain store buildings have moved in. The neighborhood schools have almost gone away too. Junior High and High School are combined in one location. The factories closed and many families spread out and moved away. The charm of happy single-family based communities has been replaced with housing developments occupied by people who have no roots in our city and no old-fashioned sense of community. It all doesn’t feel much like progress.
I don’t blame any single thing on those changes. As I said, most change is inevitable. As a direct observer to the transformation of my own city, I can testify that it doesn’t ‘feel’ that most of the change was ‘for the better’. My gut tells me that the changes to the size and make-up of the American nuclear family lie somewhere near the core of all this.
So, I ask my city, “Where did you go?” and wonder, “Why did you change?”
I’m still here and I fondly remember your good ‘ole days.