dissabte, de juny 18, 2005

Bartonsville, Pennsylvania: mi patria chica (English)

As my friend Anna was driving me home from her house tonight, for some reason, I began thinking about the tiny village where I grew up in Pennsylvania. We had just finished watching Kinsey, the fictionalized biography of the famous sex doctor. Perhaps seeing on the old-timey things in the film made me think of old times in my own life, and stories the old people in my family used to tell. Moreover, it wasn't as though old-time things have been so far from my mind the past couples days.

Last night, Carolyn, Tom and I joined Leslie at the Holistic Studies Institute (a modern manifestation of the Spiritualist Church) for a séance. A student-medium in the room called across the pitch-black of the séance room to me with a message, and part of that message beseeched me to return to the country, and get away from city life. These two apparently dissimilar associations playing in my mind, it's little wonder that I began to muse on my little Bartonsville.

In other blogs, I have talked about my Aunt Arwilda, and how we shared so much in the social context of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania; often times I will refer to it as our town, our world. Very much so that was the case; my aunt and her family had always lived in Stroudsburg and vicinity, for more than a hundred years even when she was born in 1908. Her uncle had been a county commisioner and her father had been a well-respected tradesmen in town in days when being a man with a trade was prestigious. I have so many stories about her that we shared together and others still that she told me, and I have written them down in a book hitherto unpublished called A Rose for Arwilda.

This blog, however, is not about Stroudsburg, and my aunt shares very little with the social space of Bartonsville, although it does, quixotically, play none-to-small a role in her story as well. As for Bartonsville, I claim it as my little village, my little world. There is, and the distinction is certainly a dubious one at best, most likely no one in the world except for a small handful of Aleger descendants who know more about Bartonsville than I do. As a child, I hated the tiny village where I was growing up; as a teen I began devling into the records and stories I could find about it, and fell in love. I spent hours in the wooded glens and on the steep hillsides of the tiny Pocono Creek valley where the village lies. In the years since I have left it, I have to come realize my deep connection to the land, its primeval importance to me.

I really don't think that anyone else should care about the place though. Why should they? It is not the land that nourished them, where a thousand loves blossomed for one insignificant country bumpkin, and where a million of his tears were shed. It is not for other various people a place of history, of family connection running back almost to its own origins. Its wooded glens do not remind so many other people of deep charnal yearnings and youthful fulfillments of the same. Its deep musky nature, massive ferns and trails of lilly pads and skunk cabbage sagging under lead-like humidity under a canopy of sundry conifers and broad-leaf trees on long July days do not invoke in them a profound fondness; its ramble bushes and thorny swamp blueberries are nothing to them. To me they are my very origins. Tiny, insignificant Bartonsville, Pennsylvania, awash in the social stigma of being in a backwater's provinces, is my land, my home; I am as steeped in it, as it is in my kin and me.

When I was a young child, Bartonsville had barely one iota of whatever former glory it may have had. A massive flood, more important to us in Monroe County than the Biblical Flood, washed through our region in 1955, killing many people and destroying even more property. I can remember my grandparents recounting at length on many occasions about the night of the flood; they had built their little salt-box on the hill above the older parts of Stroudsburg in 1953. As the flood tore through the narrow valleys along the sides of the Pocono Plateau, ripping up homes and lives, they could hear the screams of the drowning in the valley below. Much of what had been the old quaint village of Bartonsville was also washed out in the infamous Flood of '55. My mother was returning from Canada with her grandparents in the days after the devastation, and Bartonsville was as far south as they could come; from there down to town the roads were washed out.

Twenty years later when I was a small boy in that tiny slip of a valley, all I knew of Bartonsville was a rag-tag collection of small, old farmhouses clustered around the blinker (a blinking light - Bartonsville was not then important enough to warrant a full-function traffic light) at Route 611 and Bartonsville Avenue. Bartonsville Avenue was even then a sick joke. The original Route 611, linking Philadelphia (it actually started right behind Philadelphia City Hall and headed north) and Scranton was curvier in the 1920's when they first paved it. Then, according to my grandfather in the 1930's, PennDOT decided it was too curvey and straightened it out adding its famous three-lane traffic system that promised to end all traffic congested forever. Its curvier remains that coursed through the middle of pokey little villages were not infrequently named for the self-same villages with the grandiose title of "avenue."

Besides these few houses, the Bartonsville of the mid-1970's had two small resorts - it was the Poconos after all - called Countryside Cottages and the Pocohantas. It also had, straddling the length of 611, a Tri-Del Truck Wash, a Union 76 Truck Stop, a Holiday Inn and one other small motel. At the main crossroads, embraced hapharzardly between the paucity of houses, were two gas stations (a Gulf and a Pargas), the old grist mill which variously sold groceries, vegetables and Sunoco gas depending on the year, the so-called Bradley's Bartonsville Inn (really a converted 1915 Model-T Ford dealership), and to everyone's chagrin, an "adult bookstore."

Along the slopes of the hills that cuddled the tiny four-corners were two subdivisions, harbingers of the massive development to come in the 1980's and 90's, called Barton Glen and Pocono Laurel Lake; Barton Glen sounds much more charming than it ever was, the the so-called lake of the eponymous Laurel Lake was in fact a tiny brook meandering through swamplands dammed and stocked with big-mouth bass to lure the rubes in from New York City and Philadelphia. Additionally the actor Richard Chamberlin own and operated another tiny resort on the road to Snydersville called Rim Rock Cottages. I will broach the subject of churches in a future blog called "The Mysteries of Bartonsville."

For a small, bored boy, fascinated with relative civility of town, of Stroudsburg and my aunts' seemingly worldly life of department stores and lunch counters, Bartonsville was a rural prison, a hot and stiffling gulag removed from anything fun or interesting, a dark and wooded place besotted with farm animals and frequently drunken teenagers who listened to Kiss.

How was I to know that as I grew older I would come to cherish this little non-lieu and its quirks and characters, realizing too late to evoke any significant gratitude that it made me what I am today, and helped me begin my very own picaresque journey...

(to be continued with "The History of Bartonsville")