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.
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.
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.