Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lawrence – My Hometown

Big Town – Small Town

By Richard E. Noble

I spent approximately half my life growing up in a big city, Lawrence, Ma., and the other half here in the small town of Eastpoint, Fl. There were probably more people in a one mile radius of my original tenement apartment than there is in the entire Franklin County. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two areas and the lifestyles.

Both of my hometowns were/are poor communities. I understand that the residents in either of these hometowns take offense at being classified as “poor.” But if the historical record of either community is checked, the facts belie the opinions and prejudices of the residents. I don’t know the present status of Franklin County but any record book that I have looked into will show Franklin County historically as among the poorest counties in Florida. My other hometown, Lawrence, is and has been one of the poorest cities in America since the late 1880s.

The residents of either of my hometowns will claim that money or per capita income is not everything. There are other values and qualities that make their respective communities worthwhile and even better and happier than places that boast of more money and greater prosperity. I agree. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have remained in this community for the past 30 years.

So both communities were/are poor. I point this out to make note that poverty has different faces. I have no doubt that if all the poor living in Franklin County were shipped up to my first hometown, in the Merrimack Valley, they would crawl all the way back to the poverty of Franklin County rather than to try and exist in the poverty of that big city. There is a big difference between being small town, country poor and being big city, ghetto poor.

I’m sure if I took photographs showing the basic poverty of both communities and published each in the opposing community’s local newspapers, both towns would recognize the squalor of the other while seeing nothing unusual about their own. It’s the old frog in the heating water, syndrome.

Comparing the politics is also interesting. I know that people in Franklin County are often frustrated by their local politics. They scream corruption, nepotism, wasteful spending, and a lack of transparency. In the big city the corruption is amplified a thousand times, nepotism and job favoritism is everywhere and the lack of transparency borders on the invisible.

In the small town much of the local news travels around by word of mouth – a little card on the post office door. In the big city a little card on the post office door probably wouldn’t even be read by the busy postmaster.

Traditionally both the small town and the big city depended on area and local newspapers for their regional information. Local newspapers were once a very important source of information for the small town and the big city alike. Things are changing.

In my old hometown there was a local newspaper that was started in the 1860’s. It has a rich archive of local historical lore. Today that local newspaper, I have been told, is owned by a rich millionaire or billionaire who owns and operates a chain of newspapers around the nation. My old hometown was an industrial mill town. The American industrial revolution began in the area. The town was established in 1840 and it was built around a textile mill. In fact, it was settled and populated in preparation for the mill and the manufacturing. It was a heavy blue-collar, worker community with strong union roots and traditions. One of the biggest labor strikes in U.S. history took place there in 1912. It was called the Bread and Roses Strike.
The paper which was locally owned for over a century and published to reflect the neighborhood and the city’s local values is now owned by a man who was born and raised in South Carolina (that’s better than China, I suppose). A man, I have been told, who has no interest in the local values or in many of the differing communities. I am told that he is there promoting his personal propaganda. He covers his editorial opinions with a light sprinkling of local color.

The newspaper business in Franklin County is the very same. The one local newspaper finally sold out to a giant media manipulator. The local paper is heavily slanted to the right, as would be expected. Poor folk don’t own newspapers.

I worked for a number of years for an area-grown, small town media man. He lost more in the 15 years that he ran the newspaper than I earned in my lifetime.

Why did he do it? He had amassed a small fortune in his lifetime – mostly inheritance – and he used the paper as a tax write-off. Interesting to note: even though the paper was a tax write-off, he still wouldn’t pay his reporters and writers more than the minimum wage and no travel expenses – not even gas money. If a writer wanted to submit a commentary, if accepted, it was FREE. The writer’s only reward existing in the glory of publication – the ransom of ... a by-line.

Relationships with neighbors and making friends, is also interesting to compare.
I am still in regular contact with many of my old neighborhood friends – friends that I made in grade school, playing in the streets and hanging out on the street corners. The internet and the e-mail have helped out enormously in that regard. I actually write an e-mail column of memories and nostalgia that I send out to my old buddies and others in the area once a week.

Most of my buddies are in agreement that the friends they established in their childhood in the old neighborhood remain their closest personal relationships other than immediate family members, of course.

I find that somewhat interesting. One of my buddies who was very successful and well traveled confessed to me that his childhood buddies are still the ones he thinks most about. He considered most of the people that he met since leaving the old neighborhood, whether in business or neighbors, only acquaintances – some close acquaintances but acquaintances nonetheless. I’m in the same boat, sorta.

I made lifelong friends growing up in my old hometown and I think of one or another of them every day. But I was very happy to leave Lawrence and I don’t want to go back. To the contrary, I’ve enjoyed my years here in Franklin Country, friendless as it is.

But to be truthful, I would much rather be parked in a motor home or travel trailer somewhere in Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan or anywhere – not knowing a soul. Small town or big town, I enjoyed the life of a vagabond/hobo best of all. There is something confining and restricting about living anywhere permanently. The more you know, the worse it gets – and I don’t read newspapers.

No comments: