Welcome to Beaver County Pennsylvania and a very particular place dubbed “Little Italy”. Small town Rochester was a true melting pot of nationalities, large and small industry and people who had not yet forgotten village life. It was for the first 18 years of my life, home.
In this place are the stories, the realities, the lessons and the loves of the composite that began “me”. I leave today, as I always do, mixed with pride, misgivings, sadness and hope that this beautiful place will not forego its beauty for the greed of promised jobs, progress, and the illusive American dream that is beginning to leave so many behind.
I grew up across the street from an industrial park and my not so favorite joke is that I should probably glow in the dark for the places we played as children. Forty plus years later much of the polluted land remains unusable. Thirteen miles as the crow flies lies the Shippingport nuclear plant and now near-by a new “cracker plant” will replace a mountain along the river side… Apparently the good folks of the county have forgotten the strip mining, the defunct steel mills and other industries which promised jobs and progress – only for the immediate moment in time – leaving the people and the land raped generation after generation until yet another form of “progress” came with yet another story line of promised jobs and…
What I know is that the beauty is being lost, the pollution far greater, the division among people more pronounced as the growth of the individual’s wealth and “rights” have replaced the village caring and compassion that I once knew.
Yes, I did not always like it when the old ladies called my mom and told her when I was being unruly. But there was safety in that knowing and demands for respect of one another.
Having lunch with a old neighborhood pal I was reminded of just how mixed our neighborhood was and how the lines of race were diminished or even non existent in my young life. Mr. William Douglas was not only one of my greatest mentors of kindness and strength, as principal of my school, he was the authority. And he was Black.
Through the years I have seen an increase in the lines of segregation, I have felt the trepidation and uncertainty of people who never shown concerns of “race”. I have watched the village life be destroyed as strangers replaced the old guard and no one took the time to maintain respect and communication with them. I have watched from afar as the world’s increased isolationism has become the new normal and I am here to tell you, we are losing a piece of our humanity with this climb to the top, to be “comfortable”, to protect, not share, our assets, and the need to find a villain to blame for our woes. We are losing community. We have lost the village.
But true to my nature, which was born of this hopeful place, I was thrilled to step into a memorial dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen while I await
my plane and happy to learn, yet again, of another piece of my history, our history. I will be forever proud of my people, all of my people. I will wish for them a return to simplicity, an honoring of the earth that holds them and most importantly a respect for one another. These were the hopes instilled in me in “Little Italy” and they remain in my heart as cornerstone to the possibility of peace.
Wishing you a village.