Downsville, New York. The best town by a dam site. Hamlet of the town of Colchester, but the largest hamlet in that town. The home of the Eagles. One stop light. A handful of stop signs. A diner. A couple grocery store/gas stations. One post office. A volunteer fire department. Home of the Downsville Bridge, on the East Branch of the Delaware River. A place with a lot of memories for a lot of people. A place with a lot of heart.
This is the town I lived in from the time I was 2 years old until the summer after my freshman year of high school. I started kindergarten at the K-12 school - Downsville Central - in 1979. I knew everyone in my class. There were only around 30 of us. I could walk through town without worry because everyone knew me and my family. Many of the people I'd come across were family. My best friend and I would either play at her parents' pizza parlor and ice cream store or at my Dad's service station. We sold lemonade one summer on the corner, but didn't really make any money.
I joined Girl Scouts and my first troop leader was my best friend's grandmother. My aunt was one of my next leaders, and a friend's mother was my last. We met in the Fire Hall on Tuesday afternoons. It was also where we'd hold penny socials. I still remember getting buying tickets and putting them in styrofoam cups for items that I thought I'd want... or sometimes ones without anything at all, because I hated to see anyone's items not be claimed.
From Kindergarten... or maybe it was first grade... on, I got out of school early on Thursday afternoons to walk with some of my classmates down the street to the local Catholic Church. There we learned about God and what it meant to be Catholic. We always had our religious education in the rectory next door to the church, usually presided by parents of the students. We went from bedroom to dining room to kitchen to living room as we got older. And we loved to have Father Mullins and his dog Porkchop come through, because Father Mullins was such a warm, wonderful man.
We took field trips to Launt Pond to learn about organisms that lived in the water. Or sometimes to play. We took buses further away, to Cooperstown or Oneonta. There was always somewhere to go and something to learn.
I had friends and I had enemies. Sometimes they changed weekly. Things that I did, both the good and the bad, seemed to follow me throughout my days. But when things got really bad, I knew that the town would be there to help. In sixth grade, a friend's house burnt to the ground. We took up a collection to replace her Cabbage Patch doll. The rest of the town was helping with the necessities. We wanted to help with something that would mean more to her.
Most of the men in town worked at the quarry. Most of them still do. Most of the women stayed home with the kids. Now they are working outside the home - either in town or, more regularly, far outside it. My sister drives 45 minutes each way to get to her job. But she'd never consider leaving Downsville. It's her home.
It wasn't always a pleasant place for me to be. As I got older, I was teased more and more. I was poor, I was sensitive, I was socially awkward, I was overweight and I was smart. All the things that kids use against those they want to ostracize. And with the town as small as it was, that meant I didn't really have anywhere else to go. It's one of the reasons why I left, why I moved from this tiny town to a larger one in Florida where I could fit in with someone.
Even with all of that, Downsville is still the home of my heart. The people that teased me mercilessly in those days are now friends, asking how things are going in my life while I ask the same of them. People that I looked up to as adults are now treating me like an adult. I can come home and be recognized, even having left over 20 years ago. I still have a lot of family there, which helps it feel like home. But that isn't the only thing that makes me want to return. It's the sense of community that you can't get in a larger city. It's the knowledge that people will be there for you if you need it. That you'll always have someone to keep an eye on your kids if you need to run to the store, or have to make an emergency trip to the doctors. It's the knowledge that people matter... even if they don't always get along.
There are times I'd love to have my boys growing up in that environment. When I'd love them to have the sense of community that I had growing up. But I also love the larger school system we have here. Teddy's a lot like I was growing up. In a smaller school, I'd worry about him running through the same problems that I did. Academically, he's where he needs to be. And even socially, I know that we have good friends here. But I'm hoping to be able to spend a lot of summers there so Downsville will become a home to them, somewhere in their hearts, as well.