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Opinion Pieces
September 24, 2004
"A Big City Guy Comes Home To Smalltown, USA

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   By Joe Klock, Sr.
     I was born in rural Pennsylvania, where, in early June, young boys shed their shoes at one end and their hair at the other, the former thereafter to be worn only to church and the latter to be regrown in time for school daze in the fall, and where life was a series of animated Norman Rockwell paintings.
    It was pure and simple Americana, free of the frantic pace of city existence, with its standoffish interpersonal relationships, competitive atmosphere, stressful challenges, coldness, cruelty, crime and commercialism. Airs were to be inhaled, rather than put on, neighbors were friends, friends were for life, and the living was easy, even when times were hard. People cared about each other, and nobody seemed to be in a hurry to tilt at windmills, slay dragons or invade the Guinness Book of Records.

     I couldn't, even as a barefoot boy, wait to escape from what I then perceived to be a restrictive cocoon, yearning as I did for the excitement, adventure, challenge and opportunity that only the big city had to offer.

     Fast forward seventy years or so, during which period I tasted the thrill of victory, endured the agony of defeat, sowed and reaped the blessings of a loving family, avoided the grim reaper, entered a comfortable state of active retirement and, most recently, rediscovered Smalltown, USA.

     I divided those intervening years between the urban hurly-burly of Philadelphia and the emerging metropolis of Miami, Florida, which has since grown to mini-hurly-burly status.

     My gradual return to boyhood roots began with a getaway home in Key Largo, where there was and is, happily, little in the way of bright lights, traffic lights, honking horns or reasons to dress up and step out, and where the lifestyle is no more frantic than an afternoon siesta.

     During my subsequent retreat from the coat-and-tie life of business and the chicken-and-peas life on the lecture circuit, that second home became a first and shoes again gave way to bare feet or Birkenstock sandals - ugly as spit , but celestially comfortable. (The hair remains intact all year around, unless and until Father Time or Mother Nature conspire to remove it.)

     Key Largo's laid-back atmosphere is somewhat reminiscent of my birthplace, and now feels more embracing than confining, since I have conquered or outlived most of my demons and made peace with those remaining.

     But my love affair with Smalltown, USA was consummated when Firstwife and I discovered Holderness.

     It all started with a leaf-peeping tour of the New England foliage seven Octobers ago and progressed through summer visits of increasing length. These hiatuses led to home ownership in the Squam Lake area, made famous as the Golden Pond occupied by Hepburn, Fonda and a fish known as "Walter, that sonofabitch!"

     Holderness has a birth date of 1761, a population of 1,930, and an elevation of 600 feet. "Downtown" consists of a post office, public library, science center, community theater, country store, filling station, marina, boat ramp, restaurant, and that's about all. Surrounding towns take up the commercial slack, which "slack" is part of the community's charm.

     At the heart of that charm is the warmth and friendliness of the people who live there, both the thin-blooded Southerners who, like us, flee in terror before the first falling snowflake and the hardy folk who brave the elements when the ice lake is thicker than a ward heeler's head and even the fur-coated bears have the good sense to stay indoors.

     Since only some fortunate residents have home delivery, the post office is a place at which to tarry and catch up with the local news; as is the "transfer station," a halfway house for rubbish, reached via the appropriately-named "Ta Da Dump Road.."

     Shopkeepers, local government personnel, police officers and those who fix things are uniformly unhurried, considerate and helpful; requests for service are most often responded to with a cheerful "no problem," or the indigenous "SHOO-ah."

     Then there is that glorious Autumn, when nature seems to stretch a riotous drop cloth of color between lakes and sky, making the entire region an endless kaleidoscope of picture postcards.

     It's called Holderness, but we've come to know it as HolderNICE, and this country-boy-turned-city-slicker has come back home!

     He will, however, find solace in the summery winter of his other beloved small town in the fabulous Florida Keys.

     How and why, Firstwife and I ask ourselves daily, did we get so lucky?
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