It's been several months since I reflected on the folks of Coatesville. Now I shall reflect on me!
There was a movie made called "Pleasantville". Therein were content and happy people. There was nothing outside the skirts of this small town and all roads circled back from whence they came. That's not very adventuresome and certainly has little appeal to most people. Strangers came to that colorless town and changed it. Coatesville is still that black and white era in my mind where memories are stored. I even dream of Coatesville in black and white!
As ordinary as that seems Coatesville is extraordinary in its ordinariness! It was so much like the other towns nearby: Fillmore, Amo, Clayton, Reno, and even Cartersburg and Hazelwood all so close to the change which started so abruptly in Plainfield where the taste of "big city" was savored because they felt like one. Even Danville was much like Coatesville because pleasant people wanted Danville to stay pleasant. This pleasantness was reserved by keeping those from the big city out by retaining two-lane roads. The thought of bringing urban life to Danville was sabotaged by locals who for years disallowed four-lane highways from any direction!
Even now I choose to live in a residential complex of sub-divisions whose roads always circle back to my home. My very home is at the center of this complex of homes and as I watch the neighbors walk by, run by, bicycle by and leisurely drive by, I love it because it brings back memories of my origins. This place where I now dwell until my death is a non-entity in itself, but one I call "Pleasantville". It's my nostalgic dream of things black and white with only mere sepia overtones.
I live in Coatesville! How can that be? Because most of what I am is because of the nature of Coatesville. Just as in the sitcom Cheers, Coatesville is a place "Where everyone knows your name!" For the most part Herrins had a good name, but Herrins weren't all good. The same goes for each family there. We had a façade of goodness because to remain Coatesvillans, "goodness' was a pre-requisite.
For instance, there were no bars in Coatesville. The impression was that nobody in Coatesville consumed alcohol. That made a strong impression on teenage Larry because I wanted to be like those around me. Alcohol was never a part of my life. Sure I tasted it a few times, but I hated alcohol and still do! In pleasant Coatesville drunks were far from the norm. Any social drinking was done with those more social than we were. My brothers often consumed the spirits, but never ever so responsible people would know. You see Pleasantville is a picture of what others expect us to be. I like the long hot summers and cold winters in Pleasantville. Anything that would disrupt that vision was what formed me today. In my career I was a small town boy cavorting with those who were mostly made by the cities.
I began my life with farm and mechanic experience. I picked tomatoes and pulled corn. Before it was picked I listened to it grow on hot summer nights. I couldn't hear it from Milton Street, but I could hear that sound anyway. I lived right there on the boundary between village and country. On Milton my bed was near others, but my heart was there in the corn. My most fond memories were dreaming and planning from Thad's Minneapolis Moline and from the hay balers of so many farmers.
Coatesville meant experience! That helped mold me to be an engineer and that was exceptional training for the engineering vocation! Sure, my desire was to farm, but Herrin realization #12 was "To farm one must have land!" Herrins had no land and as such Larry had no hope of being a farmer. My school curriculum changed with that enlightenment: Boys without land have little future in farming! Coatesville even made my vocation in spite of not even knowing one person in Coatesville who was an engineer!
I'm not a drinker because Pleasantville had to be dry to be Pleasantville. However, it was still a little wet behind the ears because there existed those who were closet drinkers. I still believe that it is a sign of respect to never do flagrantly what others may dislike. By keeping things private Pleasantville and Coatesville remained pleasant!
Coatesville had five churches as I remember it. They all were part of my life because those who attended each were part of my life. Most of my friends were neighbors kids, but more importantly, they were my church friends as well! Our belief systems differed little and belief was of significance for most of us. There were no atheists in Pleasantville, or at least that wasn't something that the unbeliever broadcast. Even the vilest people would take time out to listen to Billy Graham's sermons. Just as the lack of bars in Coatesville created boring me, the churches of Coatesville influenced me greatly. I have great faith because of Zeitgeist. This is the thought that we are a product of our times!
I admit, I have great faith because I was brought up in an era when that was expected and respected. I remember that Dad, a noted Christian, would use his reputation to have favor with the law to get leniency for friends and relatives when they did wrong. Dad was respected in Coatesville although he was a patriarch of poverty as many were at that time. It was easy to be as a Christian in Coatesville, but when country boys stepped into the big city it was found that believing was much easier than doing! However, persistence is a trait of those from Coatesville in that era. We are what we were made. Coatesville made many of us whether those who lived there recognize it or not!
I see that Paul Wingler, now a famous artist, still has ties to Coatesville. At one time because he was several years younger, Paul was insignificant to us older guys. Now he is one of us! I see that Annie Johnson whose book is well read and very literary, has a heart still in Coatesville. I think of James Lyon as well although I didn't know of him then. There are those who are unsung who come back to "If You Grew Up in Coatesville" to return to our song. "If only I could go back to Coatesville" would be my song for those are the days which I love to sing! Things were simpler then!
Jerry Bryant did a great job of updating Joe Davidson's Brief History of Coatesville. Although of a different generation both Joe and Jerry have now passed on, but memories are their legacy. I expect even in death my memory will survive in that small town. No one wants to die even the first death. My memories are a way of living on after I'm gone! My children who really don't know me even now, someday will learn who I am. That makes memories worth the effort. I wanted my children to have memories of Pleasantville just as I do, but Zeitgeist can never allow it! They are victims of technology and we are children of the corn! They can never sense what cannot be programmed and most of their memories are not their own, as they are mere audiences to fictional lives.
If you missed the simple life I grieve for you. It's just not living! Ask Don Wood. His comments are dripping with nostalgia. It's because things are not how they were! Even the bombers loaded with arsenal which flew low over Cold War era Coatesville with their sonic booms no longer are! They instilled fear in the hearts of young people. Life was serious business and the threat of being blown away at midnight made one consider what was important in life. For me it was "eternal life". Hence, Coatesville made me a victim of my times! I sought a way to live forever and it was beyond me how to do it. All the inputs from where I was, engulfed me to seek what was far far away. My livelihood depended not on me, but a Divine Man who died for me several thousand years ago. Because I grew up meek, becoming meek was not too disarming. This small town boy has now inherited the world. You see, even those who are of little importance can become great! It just depends on whose eyes are looking!
No, I'm not a bible-thumper! However, I do have faith. Because of my hope I want others to share it. Sharing is not only Christian, but Coatesvillan as well!
My family was large, but not as large as some. We had about an acre garden, but mom canned about eight-hundred quarts of canned goods or more each year. Much of this produce were gifts of friendly neighbors. We weren't communal by any means, but people showed love for these transplants from Povertyland. I still appreciate the generosity of the Jamisons, the Hadleys, the Poffs, the Botorffs, the Davidsons, the Winglers, the Trumps, the Awbreys, the Johnsons, even the Pyles who extended credit to our family without fear of not being repaid! We were able to continue on because others were generous. That's good memories!
Back in those days there was a scandal. Usually people who were normally "good" failed themselves. The scandal no longer matters because it's far behind us. However, many young men of the town were involved. None of my family was. We were blessed. Somehow we escaped defamation. Perhaps Dad had more influence on is than we thought.
There were shenanigans going on all over town. I witnessed many first hand. Coatesville had an underside, but our failures don't define us! I will not focus on the Unpleasant Suburbs of Pleasantville, but the great things of being so ordinary. We are not what we were, but what we are. We can be better, but that's in the future. I like to think that the future is now and that Coatesville is still what it was. It exists in the memory of one who has been gone for over forty-five years, but don't tell me that what was has been mislaid!
The pessimistic person will think at this point "I'm not that influenced by my childhood home!" Think not? In forty years look back and compare. Most of us ARE what we WERE! A friend of mine said to that "I'm so sorry to hear that!" I replied simply "I'm not!" My perfunctory childhood is joy in my adulthood. When one has not, then receives, having is much more significant because thereafter it is so much better than the standard!
One of my favorite espresssions is "Poverty is good training for success!" Few in Coatesville were rich, few were wealthy, and few were poor. Most people there were just one step ahead of us. Compared to others we were poor. We always had been. Herrins had a history of poverty and VanHooks (Mom's side) were worse off. The biggest reason we were poor, though, is not because Dad didn't work. Indeed he was one of the hardest workers I've even seen!
Dad actually made a fair wage when we lived in Coatesville. It's just that he was laid off half the time from General Motors. War was good for Allison Division. Peace hurt them and Herrins felt despair when the Korean Conflict ended. When Dad moved from Kentucky to Indiana he had the Knetzer family of Johnston County who came to our aid. The entire family picked tomatoes for him.
When we lived on Jackstown Road (Cascade Road) when I was a youngster, Hersshel Knetzer would fly a single prop plain from Johnston County to get my older brothers, Rich and Joe, to pick tomatoes for him. That's what he thought of their work ethic! Oftentimes the entire family would pick tomatoes and Dale and I would roam the fields while everyone else worked. At six-years old Mom said that I would be paid to pick and I picked 50 hampers for $5 a day. With my summer's earnings I bought my own school clothes. Dad took me to the Greencastle Five-And-Dime and I picked them out myself!
Why then were we poor although everyone worked hard and chipped in? Because Dad was the most charitable person there could be! His income was shared with all the less fortunate families who moved from Pulaski County, Kentucky to Indiana. They stayed in our home and ate our food. Entire families stayed with us for even a year, and one family after another. They stayed until they found work and could make it on their own. Coatesville is still home to some of those: Noble VanHook is one who is still there. Noble was part of our household for years!
Dad had two rules for his charity: 1) No drinking and 2) no "cussing". Most abided by this in our home, but two were sent packing back to Somerset. Because of Dad's high principles on these two issues may be why they are so important to me! I've been sent to my room for saying "Gosh" and berated for calling Dale a "fruit"! Dad had no "by-words" as he called them and instilled in me not to as well. My expression of surprise is "Yipes! Stripes!" from the Fruit Stripe Gum slogan. There were many in Coatesville with like principles as Dad, at least in public.
I mentioned in an earlier chapter that Coatesville was mostly Republicans at that time. I've since learned differently. Statistics proved me wrong. At that time Coatesville just seemed to be Republican to me because overall people of both parties of that time were like-minded on most issues. As George Wallace once said about the two parties "There is not a dime's worth of difference," and in Coatesville that was true! It was a Republican County and I believe that it still is.
I brought that conservative philosophy from Coatesville to the world. I'm speaking of hard-working, charitable, freedom-loving, and honest people whether they were Democrats or Republicans. I was molded by my family and neighbors to value these principles. Perhaps it was the times more than the place, but I'm still stuck in 1950's Coatesville in my thinking. That was a very family oriented principled age and I long for it again! My dreams about Coatesville are still in black and white as is my vision of wrong-doing!
As I laid there thinking of the universe I would define me in terms of the cosmos. I thought of my address as Milton Street, Coatesille, Hendricks County, Indiana, United States, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, Universe, Zip Code infinity! You see Coatesville wasn't insignificant to me. It had value in the Cosmos even though we were less than a speck! That speck in Indiana made me what I am whether good or bad. Yes, I learned bad things there too! I've already recounted my thievery. Well there was much other malice learned there as well to which only me and God are privy.
Coatesville was my world. I couldn't imagine any other home. I wondered sometimes "How can people be happy living elsewhere?" I actually thought that! The reason is because that was my world. It was Plesasantville and other places were not so pleasant because I did not know of them!
As I started off the college in 1967 the race riots preceded me. When I got to Flint, Michigan, another hotbed of rioting that year, I saw a different world; maybe a different galaxy. I was Jethro from the mountains. As I walked the strees of Detroit then and saw hateful glances cast my way was when I first asked "Who are these people?" They weren't the nice Marie Sanders nor Phyllis Johnson of Pleasantville. Detroit was a contrast in unpleasantness. My Bostonian friend, another strange person from another planet, said "Larry! Quit staring. You'll get yourself in trouble." I stared not because of hate, but because of my previous environment. Coatesville was WASP and at that time I didn't even realize that I was an insect, so to speak, because in Detriot WASPS were swatted!
That's a term long gone because it applies to so few! White Anglo-Saxon Protestant were Coatesville! When they were derided the derision was toward me and my home. Being a WASP was nothing to be ashamed of, but a source of pride, and in the big city with it's refinement, I just wasn't in vogue! I'm not ashamed for being a WASP-American and whatever-American you want to be that's fine as long as "American" comes first. I learned that in Coatesville!
I can write extensively on culture and values. Maybe I will later as my synapsis has them pop through the muck in there! Zeitgeist is applicable to everyone... even on Planet Detroit. They too are a product of their times, but when I walked into their world, world's collided. Detroit's views didn't change and few of mine did either. I liked where I was from and enjoyed my own Walter Mitty-ness! The world inside my head would not be easily transformed and much of that world was Coatesville.
I didn't sense hate in Coatesville. Even when David Hill punched me in the face, he was sorry. Even when Colby Johnson and I spat, we were still good friends. Even after I chased Jim Delp with a broken Coke bottle he was still my friend after the anger wore off! Even after Jackie Witt stole my girlfriend, we were still friends! I graduated from Coatesville with not an enemy that I know of! Even Ronnie Love and I were civil!
Some of us did make fun of others less blessed than we were. Mom always said "Never make fun of anyone. It'll come back on you later in life." In secret I made fun of a few people, especially one particular person. That person was so nice, but Mother Nature failed this person in appearance. I grimaced at what I saw. Until my last child was born I was scared that this malady would be passed on to one of my children. I deserved it, but my kids were blessed in spite of my callousness. When you get better than you deserve that is called "grace". I've had much of that in my life. If I was what I deserve, my clothes would have horizontal gray stripes and my hope would be at Pendleton!
Stay tuned for another chapter of my thoughts of growing up in Coatesville. I thank those who have shared their memories to be included. "If You Grew Up in Coatesville" is the memory machine which captures memories lost. I encourage others to reflect on Coatesville and their own life.