Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hometown Homecoming

After leaving Louisville, KY, we meandered through the farm country along the Ohio River Valley, finally crossing into West Virginia at Parkersburg. From there it was an easy 4-lane drive to Clarksburg, WV, home to Diane’s sister Patty and her family. I should mention that Diane and Patty’s mother is from Clarksburg. I should also mention we arrived on the 4th of July weekend. In other words, we enjoyed a truly American hometown homecoming, filled with food…

… family fun…

… and fireworks.

Patty and her husband Dee have always called Clarksburg home. Most of their children and grand children live in the area. Their long-time friends and family are close by, be they in a house down the street or in their family’s plot at the city cemetery. Patty and Dee have seen Clarksburg when it was at its best; they have known it during hard times. Through their stories and town tours, we got to know this town of theirs until the past came alive and, once again, Diane’s mother was the toast of the town, the glass mills were working full force, the Italian bakeries had lines out the door, and Al Capone had just bootlegged down from Chicago “to pay a visit” to his moonshine suppliers.

From the early to middle 20th century, Clarksburg, WV was a bustling city of 32,000 residents. As the fourth largest city in West Virginia, it was home to numerous glassworks, shops, schools, hotels, theaters… it was a vigorous place.

By comparison today, like many other American cities its size, Clarksburg is a crumbling husk of its once industrious self.

Passenger rail service has long since ceased. Faded stone storefronts sit on gritty downtown streets while car-centric outlying shopping centers, anchored by a Super Wal-Mart (one of the largest of that chain in east of the Mississippi River) command the retail traffic. Most tragic of all, I think, is that the optimistic and can-do ideals of the American story appear to be slowly fading away, like long-untouched paint on a wall of old, flaking brick.

But this is only the exterior of the place, and as a traveler it is the most obvious thing to notice and in many ways the least important. Every day we’ve said it. Every post we imply it. And once again I’ll say it: The only way to know your family is to be with them; the only way to know a place is to go there. We are blessed to be on this road trip. We are blessed to visit our family and friends, to break bread with them, and to stay awhile. It is a nourishment for the spirit as much as it is for the body. And to be at Patty’s place, in and among her family, was to be home again.

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