The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

Worthington, Pennsylvania

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This is the town where I grew up. Neither my brother or I were born here, but it is the only town I remember from childhood. My brother, three years older, may remember York where I was born. We came back to my father’s birthplace when I was about two. Worthington is the land of Claypooles and Bowsers. I was the Claypoole, an English name, I think, with various spellings. The joke was always that those with the “e” were the rich ones who could afford the extra letter and without the “e” too poor for that extra letter on monograms. Or maybe it was the opposite and those without the ‘e’ simply didn’t need it anymore. Of course there were many other names in town like the more common Smith that can be found everywhere in the country or the less common Yockey that has you believing everybody with that name in the United States surely must be related. I looked in phone books everywhere we went for Claypoole and Yockey. I think we found them in Tucson and Phoenix when we lived there, but of course, Arizona is a state that boasts transplants from all over the United States; so you are likely to find lots of names from your home towns.

Worthington is a small town in Western Pennsylvania surrounded by family farms. What is different about this small town is that it is my home town. It is the small town I always wanted to leave for excitement and exotic places. But it is a town that has residents whose entire family history can be written in this one place. It is the one I left a couple of times and then returned. What draws people back home is usually family, which is what brought us back from Arizona to the family farm and later to the next small town of Cowansville. It is usually not industry that brings people back to the area. When I was growing up, there was the tile works nearby and the mushroom mines where both my brother, my niece, my husband, our two kids and I all worked through the years. In Ford City there was a PPG plant and the Eljer Pottery where my father-in-law worked casting toilets and sinks. They are all gone now, and the biggest employer in the county now is the hospital.

My father was a farm boy who left the farm to become a teacher and then a sales rep and then returned home to be a farmer again with another job grading livestock at auctions for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. His reports of those grades and prices could be found in the local papers under “Livestock Report.” My mother was an elementary school teacher who taught my husband in 2nd grade with hundreds of others in town and country. She was never my teacher though because we saw each other enough without complicating it with teaching. My class of ≈55 was too big for just one classroom anyway. I think my Class of 1969 was the biggest ever at Worthington so 1950-51 must have been the years of fertility. My school is gone, converted into the Community Center. My very first school though was a two-room school-house in the neighboring, even smaller town of Craigsville. My schooling began with a classroom of kids in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade with a teacher I thought old at 35. She was mean and would be featured on news reports of abusive teachers today for things she did to little kids. She would sneak up and slap kids for talking. She told my friend who was often talking to me to shut up. He was always talking, and even she could not stifle that boisterous friendly kid. He was a talker all his life. One day she made me stand in the wastebasket for one of those terrible things a six-year old does. My friend remembered that I peed my pants in that can. I don’t remember that; probably embarrassment wiped that from memory.

CHURCH

Recently a schoolmate’s parent died, and I had a strong memory of his parents at church. They were a very handsome couple. It’s odd how people make an impression in your life that are mostly just background players until something brings them back into focus. I spent a lot of time in my Lutheran church involved in every youth activity and attending every Sunday service. When I was young, that church was vibrant and alive with a young pastor who had kids my age. When I remember him, it is with the charisma of John F. Kennedy because it was about the time of that presidency. He didn’t look like Kennedy, but he was young and the church was full. He left though, and pastorship passed through a series of progressively less charismatic pastors. The church is quite lovely and historic, but has lost much of its membership in the last decades.

HISTORY

The town has a history that I know rather vaguely. There was a grist mill that my husband’s grandfather operated along Buffalo Creek with his large family, my father-in-law the youngest of the 13 brothers, sisters and half-siblings. There is an empty old stone house along Main Street that I think was a stagecoach stop or tavern. The town had a centennial when I was young, in the 1960’s so it is now about 150 years old. The centennial festivities probably ran concurrent with the annual Worthington Carnival that was the highlight of our summers.

It was a town where we rode our bikes on the streets and sidewalks and sledded down hills closed for sled-riders. I knew most of the people in town, and they knew me. The town looks much the same as you walk down Main Street past the Worthington Hardware and the Bowser Feed Store, but when I walk down the street I might meet a lot of people I don’t know and who don’t know me.

10 Comments

  1. Barb,
    Nice article – seems like everyone who grew up here shares your feelings about getting out of here to someplace more exciting and the joy of returning. The most fortunate are those of us who get to return and STAY ! The reunions are a testimony to the devotion of those fortunate enough to have lived here – hope you’re able to attend one. (great picture of the Lutheran Church)

    • Al,
      Thanks for reading. Perhaps I will get to a reunion someday, but I was at the breakfast last week. And I’ve taken lots of pictures of the church and never can get one I really like. I’m glad someone liked this one.

      Barb

  2. I very much enjoyed the article, it brought back memories long forgotten. I was born and raised in Worthington and enjoyed that experience. I was class of 1966 and often wish I would have kept in contact with my school friends. After reading your article I realize I need to go back and visit very soon. Thanks again for stirring those memories.

    • Hi Sam,
      Thanks for your comments. I remember you. You were in my brother, Roger’s class. I went to my 10-year reunion and never went to any all-school reunions. I regret that now.
      Barb

  3. Thank you both for sharing some wonderful memories. The close bond between the students, faculty and entire staff is one that can only be appreciated be attending a very small school.

    • A small school is indeed special, but that never stopped me from wishing I went to a school like Butler though. Life would have been very different then and not better. It is nice to go somewhere that everyone knows your name.

  4. Thanks for the memory-laden journal. I didn’t move to Worthington until I was 12 when my dad became the new pastor at the Baptist Church. Entering the school in 7th grade wasn’t the easiest time of my life but I still facebook with many of the friends I made. I with gratitude remember Mrs. McBride, Mrs. Dell, Mr. Good, Mr. Marshall, Mr. Dudek, Mr. Keil and our favorite Mr. Lettie. I remember sitting in Dudek’s class and hearing about Kennedy’s assassination. I remember marching in the band down Main St (and many others) and trying so hard to keep the lines straight while playing my french horn. Also decorating the store windows at Halloween time with pumpkins, witches, ghosts and fall pictures. I was told once that the old stone house next to the drug store at one time had been part of the underground railroad but not sure of that’s authenticity. Shortly after receiving my driver’s license, I remember driving by the drug store and a dog running out between the buildings. I killed it and felt so bad for a long time. I was married in that town and even had my reception in the fire hall. About two years ago we were in the area, ate a meal with several old classmates, drove through town and whisked through memories. Growing up in a small town is the best!

    • I remember you Deb and your French horn. You lived on Cherry Street. I think that house was actually where my friend once lived too. I played the trumpet which I never wanted to do, because it was not a girl’s instrument. I never practiced either and faked a lot. There definitely were certain teachers that made impressions on me, some good, some not so good. I guess I might even call them characters now. I wrote about Kennedy’s assassination in another piece. I always told my kids that 9/11 would be a memory for them like Kennedy’s assassination was for me. You always remember where you were and how you felt. Now we all add 9/11 too to such memories.

  5. Loved reading this. It brings back great memories.

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