Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Little Nostalgia Is Good For The Soul

First, let me stress "a little".

Someone had the genius idea of starting an open group on Facebook called "Growing Up In The Valley Memory Lane". If you have to ask "What Valley?", then you don't belong in the group. It now has over 700 members, and it is astonishing the stuff people are bringing up. Dredging up is more like it. Old bars and restaurants and hang-out spots and ice cream stands. Stores in the business district that don't exist anymore - we used to go back-to-school shopping on Broad Street in Waverly, not at the K-Mart, or Grants, or Ames Department Stores on Elmira Street in South Waverly and Athens. The New York Store and Yanuzzi's for clothes, Triange for shoes. Philadelphia Sales for school supplies.

It's been fun to read stuff people are remembering. Most of the folks in the group are like me, long since moved away, indulging in a bit of "remember when?", and sharing - even if we didn't know one another existed - the ways we have been shaped by common points of reference. Most of the "Memories" are either from childhood and a time when the Valley seemed the whole world, and parents would let us wander hither and yon without too much worry (a whole lot of people are talking about leaving the house in the summer just after breakfast, and getting back home around dark; yeah, I did that, too), or our youth when it was possible to get in to bars and liquor stores pretty much any age. And what bars! I'd forgotten the Chemung Hotel, but there was the Cork 'N' Bottle - with its balcony and bands and even the more-than-occasional fight, either inside our out in the parking lot where most folks smoked some weed before going in. Billy Joe's with the cat behind the bar. Stuffed, as in taxidermied. It had been a live cat, but it got itself hit and killed by a bar patron, and the owner kept it around. . .

I remember the first time I went to Putz' Place on the East Side of Sayre. I was underage (weren't we all?) and scared out of my mind and the bouncer didn't even look at my ID. The one time I really got carded - at Billy Joe's in Waverly - the bartender had to know I was underage, but smiled, handed me back my license with my beer. Another case of money talking and BS walking, I guess.

Then there was summer in the Valley. Ice cream at The Valley Creamery before it became a cheese plant. The Jolly Farmer, where if you were in high school, you might stand around and chat with the girls who were selling you cones, because they were classmates of yours. And, of course, Mr. Softee.

Waverly and Sayre high schools both had open swimming. It was two hours for a quarter, then fifty cents, at Waverly. The same amount got you four hours at Sayre, so we would ride our bikes down to Sayre High School. You had to have an iron-on "S" patch on your suit to get in, so I wore my brother's. You put your shoes and shirt in a basket, and got a pin with the basket number on it to put on your suit. They had a three meter diving board at the Sayre High pool, and it seemed to be a mark of some kind of courage to climb that ladder time and again and dive or jump off. Also, as I pointed out on FB, Sayre had better looking lifeguards.

There are so many other memories, touchstones for all these disparate people now spread out across the country. Sharing memories we didn't even know we shared. Laughing at the stuff we forgot we remembered. Kidding ourselves that life was easier then, or simpler, or less confusing because we have forgotten the emotional weather of youth, and remember only the freedom for which we now yearn. Part of that freedom, of course, included doing things that were unbelievably stupid, even dangerous, and, of course, illegal. Most of us, most of the time, indulged without considering just how stupid and/or dangerous. That, too, is a part of being young. Being too ignorant to understand how closely you are dancing with death, always with a smile, even laughing at the prospect.

It has been fun, to be sure, strolling down others' memory lanes, joining in with a smile and shake of the head. Best of all, even more than the memories of stuff that's long gone - like most of the business district on Broad Street in Waverly, either boarded up or burned down or torn down - has been the chance for a whole lot of people, some of whom don't know one another, to share bits and pieces of our lives, how similar they were because the places and names were all there. I have very little desire ever to return to Waverly. All the same, it was a great place to grow up, be a kid then a youth, then run from as fast as you could before the gravity could pull you back in.

My father told me once that the Valley was like the legend of the secret elephant burial ground. If you weren't careful, you'd find yourself back there and it was only a matter of time before you just couldn't get out again. He should know, of course. All the same, it was a great place to live, and with, just a few minutes after having started to write this, membership over 800, it seems a whole lot of us are enjoying sitting around and sharing our memories.

Virtual Tin Cup

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