Through the years I have enjoyed putting my thoughts into prose.
I call these vignettes, they are just random pondering.
Vignettes Circa 1987
It is difficult to have spent a lifetime, teaching myself to understand my current reality and then, having grown from that reality, attempt to move that reality into the past--to superimpose it upon a prior reality. My stories and incidents may or may not be authentic, since I cannot re-create my former ignorance and can only apply my current ignorance to the recounting.
If you have the determination for a sustained look, Royersford, Pennsylvania is quite an interesting place. "Middletown America" connected by a bridge to another "Middletown America" called Spring City. These twin towns are located on opposite sides of the Schuykill River approximately 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia. In my youth some of the industry, clustered by the river, continued--it did not thrive, but continued. It would be my sadness to watch it diminish and perish. Even today, the old, now-empty factories, built in the 1920s stand worn and desolate. Most of the windows of the buildings are gone, but little graffiti is evident. I suspect there are few, if any, homeless or drug users calling the old factories home. Using abandoned buildings for shelter is a "city" problem. No, the abandoned buildings stand and wait for a real estate investor who will look at their location along the river and propose to establish shops and restaurants. Alas, such visionary investors do not come to Royersford. So the old buildings remain icons of a "goneby" era. An era we did not know and probably could no longer endure, but one we hold with reverence because it contributed to who and what we became.
Royersford was similar to many Pennsylvania towns that grew from the river outward. Going north from Philadelphia on the Schuykill, there is Wisahickon, Conschhoken, Norristown, Phoenxville, Royersford, Pottstown et al. All of these towns have old factories on beautiful waterfront land. In cities these sites would fetch millions of dollars and become monuments to our capitalist free-enterprise system, but here in small "Middletown America" they wait. As they wait people rush past them without seeing them. Some people are rushing to the non-river side of town where they have built new and beautiful homes on large lots. Others rush past the buildings to the homes they have inhabited for generations--"your house"--where your father was born and you were born and your son was born. The next generation will begin and end in that house--"your house".
The people of Royersford are "Middletown American People"--the backbone of our American citizenship. It is the spirit of these people who, like millions of their counterparts in all the "Middletown Americas", make this country the most outstanding country on the planet Earth. They have both feet firmly planted in reality and their reality is not complicated. Their reality today is spiritually the same as it was when I was growing up there--"work hard and create a better life for your progeny". Simplistic? Perhaps.
Growing up in Royersford in the 40s, 50s and 60s had limitations. It was not and is not a haven for intellectuals, psyeudo or otherwise. There are many intelligent and successful people there, but few who reach the level of those found in New York or Washington, DC. Back then, however, many, many levels separated me from those considered the elite of Royersford. For me the town's limitations were further compounded by the fact that my parents were immigrants with language and educational paucity. For immigrants coming out of Philadelphia in the 1920s, Royersford was a distant river town up the line. The immigrant population was therefore small and viewed with skepticism and distrust by many of the town inhabitants. In my hindsight I know that Royersford was not prejudice, only unaware. They were looking at people who were unfamiliar in language, looks and culture--different from themselves. Even today, I believe that we have much more discomfort in America than we have prejudice or racism.
By current American standards, my young life would appear to be "disadvantaged". I had very poor, uneducated, non-English speaking parents in a town that obviously did not have educational programs for minorities. But wait let us look at the situation from a different perspective.
My parents left their homes on the East Coast of Italy and traveled, "steerage" class, at great hardship to reach America. They wanted to improve their status and recognize more reward for their extraordinarily hard labor. They did not settle in New York with its high immigrant population. They were exceptionally lucky. They settled in Royersford--small "Middletown America". They looked at the people in this town and saw Americans. They wanted to be Americans too. The people in Royersford were good role models. Their credo was "to work hard and make life better for their progeny". Until the day they each died, my parents believed that all Americans followed that credo. Through good times and very bad times becoming Americans meant that they could actually succeed in giving their children a better life. In America it could happen. The people of Royersford had done it, so they were certain they could do it too.
Being a foreigner in small "Middletown America" in the 1920s was probably similar to being a midget fullback on a modern day football team--the job of winning was a big one. There was lack of understanding--ignorance--on both sides. That, coupled with reluctance on both sides to erase the ignorance, generated a kind of prejudice. The foreigners of the '20s, however, desperately wanted to assimilate. They wanted to be Americans more than they wanted to remain what they had been. They came here looking for a new life, not their old life with better economy. Most of the 1920s immigrants had spent their last penny for their one-way $50 steerage class tickets. They HAD to make it, returning was not an option. They needed to melt, quickly.
Language, of course, was the paramount problem for the immigrants. In our family it was almost by instinct that the two older children, Joe and Irene stopped speaking Italian completely as soon as they began attending school. They brought English into the home and soon the family was completely bi-lingual--parents spoke in Italian and children responded in English. That language environment never changed.