Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My hometown

No home delivery here

Today's travels provided more content than one blog post can handle, so I'm going to limit this entry to photos of and reflections on my hometown.

Phillipsburg is a single stop light village in the western part of Ohio and the southern half of the state. This rural community is bordered by farms, but the suburbs probably aren't more than five to ten miles away.

Other than his time in college and the military, my father lived here his entire life until he and my mom moved in December 2000. His mother lived here or on a nearby farm her entire life, and I reckon the same is true for his father, although I faintly recall that he might have been born in Germany. My grandfather built the grain elevator in the middle of town, and he and my grandmother lived across the street in a house he also built. The family business had been in operation for fifty years when it closed in the mid-1990s.

Looking south on State Route 49 at Main St.

It was a sleepy little place to grow up, but I have no complaints. I was able to roam around on foot or bike without any worries. I could drop in at my grandmother's at any time, visit my dad at work and probably get a bottle of pop (or a can, eventually) from the old Pepsi machine, go to the ball fields at the community park or the elementary school playground practically out our front door, and wander to friends' homes. Chances are that I knew most people I might encounter in the village.

We lived at two different homes. Until I was in second grade we lived on Walnut Street on the east side of town. To the house's east was a large yard that was also directly behind the Lutheran church. It was big enough to practice baseball with my dad, although obviously a lot of room wasn't necessary because I wasn't very old while we lived there.

My first home

I'm beginning to wonder if I have my time line correct because there would have been three of us kids when I think we moved from this house, but I'm not sure where there would have been room for the youngest. Anyway, I shared the bedroom at the front left in the above photo. The house was becoming too small as brothers arrived, which was what led to a move to the west side of Phillipsburg.

My second home

Again I shared the front left bedroom, but the big excitement about moving here, aside from more space, was the above ground pool in the backyard. And we were a hop, skip, and a jump from the elementary school and park, but it was all about the pool for us kids. I remember when my parents looked at houses that they checked some older ones that weren't in the village limits. My big concern was that moving into an old house meant changing one's lifestyle to the olden ways, which was also the impression I had of how people lived in Virginia. (Apparently I assumed that things hadn't changed there since the days of Jamestown's founding.)

It was at this location that I wore out a patch on the east lawn (and later on the west side) throwing a tennis ball against the side of the house to practice pitching and fielding skills. Of course, it was also a time of dreaming of future athletic greatness and, I suppose, trying out sportscasting in my head as I imagined entire games and scenarios. Thinking about it now, I wonder how I didn't drive my parents crazy, even though it was my bedroom wall that I was throwing against. It was thump, thump, thump as I tried to pitch the ball just above the gas meter, although errant throws would go in the bushes or hit the tube coming down from the gutter. To my credit, I never broke a window, and I do have pretty good accuracy when it comes to throwing things.

Sign commemorating Phillipsburg's hometown hero

Baseball was my favorite sport as a kid, and I imagine if forced to commit, it's tops on my list now. Although I'm from a small place, a Hall of Famer called it home. Jesse Haines, who was from here and lived next to the Methodist church, is in Cooperstown. Undoubtedly, this was a big deal to a certain kid who dreamed of playing for the Reds.

The elementary school

I attended kindergarten through sixth grade at the old school pictured above. At one time it held classes through high school levels. (I'm fairly sure my dad went to high school for one year here.) Come August it was always a big deal to run to the front of the school to see if the teacher and class lists were taped to the inside of one of the sixth grade classroom windows.

Rear view of the school

This photo is similar to a view I would have had of the school from home, although I was next door in the park's parking lot. It should show how close we lived to it, though. I just now realized that the storage building that was next to where we played kickball is no longer there. (Throws fired at you en route to first base would ricochet off of it.) It's possible that it was torn down while I was still around and merely forgot, although passing through today I noticed that many lots had been cleared of what used to stand there.

Former site of the grain elevator

The family business was knocked down years ago, although it's still weird to go past the space where it once was and not see it. (It's stranger still to be there and realize that I would now be violating the posted no trespassing signs.) The old firehouse that had been across the street hasn't been there for ages, but I'm still not used to seeing a decorative bandstand in its spot.

The building where the small independent grocery store stood has been reduced to concrete rubble. If anyone in the family said they were going uptown, that's where they meant. In some ways the village looks the same and looks like the intervening years haven't been particularly kind.

I stopped by the bank--the only bank--to get some cash and had to go inside because it doesn't have an ATM. I was shocked that it still looked about how I remembered it. The tellers are behind old-timey bars that may well have been there since the bank opened in nineteen aught whenever. (I have no idea how long it's been there, but it looks like something out of an old movie.) The Toledo scale is still in there, for what purpose I don't recall. The classic looking vault is easily visible from the customer's side. I wish I'd asked if I could take a picture because it is really cool.

I mentioned to the teller that it didn't seem as though it had changed. She agreed that it hadn't. (The outside appearance is different, but that's not what is so striking about the bank.) We talked briefly about this place and that it seemed like a lot of buildings had been knocked down.

The Phillipsburg airport

I visited with a lot of mixed emotions. I have no ill feelings toward my tiny hometown, which I know is not true for a lot of people who grew up in spots like it. I didn't have any burning desire to stay there, but I wasn't looking to run from it as soon as possible either. It's a quiet, unassuming place where a kid could go day to day without feeling the outside worries of the world. This is the sort of place people laugh at, an attitude likely stemming from classism, but it served me well.

The water tower

This is not a fancy exurb by any means; it's probably even more working class and lower than I realized at the time. I have fond memories of the place, but it makes me sad to see the state that it is in. I know that growing up here had a lot to do with making me who I am. I suspect that I probably don't fit in here any longer, which is to say that what I want and what it offers are not the same. That doesn't mean I've betrayed the community but that it is, I fear, being left behind.

From time to time I think it helps to remember where we've come from. It reminds me where I get the slight twang in my voice. Growing up I didn't hear that mild southern (or midwestern, rather) accent, but it was unmistakable when listening to the people around me today. It reminds me of my foundation in hard work and humility. And yes, even though it no longer is, it reminds me of home.

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At 8:54 PM, Blogger Donna B. said...

That's a beautiful, beautiful post. So detailed and poignant. Thank you for taking us along on your visit.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Ruth's Place said...

This is a beautiful post. I loved reading about your home town.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

I agree w/ Donna and Ruth- great post and I loved to see the pics of where you grew up. Thanks for sharing!


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