Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Noxen, Pennsylvania

I was raised in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania called Noxen. Noxen is about 4 miles from Harvey's Lake, the largest natural lake in Pennsylvania.

When I was young, Noxen was a "blink-and-you're-through-it kind of town. One street ran through town, with a stop sign at a "T"in the road. That was the hub of everything. There was a gas station, a general store, and a medical clinic all on the same corner. About two city blocks down the street there was another general store with an ice cream parlor along one wall(for the kids). Next door stood a bar, converted from an old ice house. And that was it. The entire "big city" experience of my youth.

My grandfather was the town policeman, or, if you prefer, the constable. Every night after work, he would put on his uniform, complete with "dress blue" jacket and offical hat, and announce that he was off to the "big city" for patrolling. Ocassionally I would get to accompany him on his patrols... Sort of like Andy let Opie "ride along." Grandpa and I never found any crime, but he didn't let the dust collect on the car's big side spotlights. We'd patrol backroads where he'd let me look for deer among the trees. It was so exciting to see those two little "headlights" as the spotlight startled the night feeders. I can't remember how those nights ended, but I always woke up in my bed the next morning. It must have been tough work for a youngster, all that patrolling!

Noxen was founded during the 17 and 1800's on the industries of leather tanning and lumbering. When I was a child of three, my grandfather worked at the tannery a mile down the road. At three, you don't remember much, but I recall a story my grandmother told me after I became an adult. Gramma allowed me play on the front porch with my dolls and other toys. She'd bring snacks occasionally, as she worked in the kitchen baking, hung laundry out back, washed dishes, and so on. One day when she came to the porch, I was nowhere in sight. She looked all around our house, which sat on an acre of property. She checked the chicken house, the garden, and the pig's area that ran up the side of the mountain out back. She checked the spring by the chicken house, and the pond directly in back of the house. Panicing, she raced to the outhouse and the tree lot to the north of the garage. Finally, with her heart in her throat, she checked the road. There, in the dust of the road were two little footprints.

She ran, hairpins flying from her hair and apron flapping around her knees, through the woods, a mile down the road, as fast as she could. When she finally found me, I was being held by my grandfather as he stood outside the tannery drive. I was smiling and laughing and being offered candy and cigars and my toes were being tickled by 5 or 6 big, dirty, entertaining tannery workers. When I was questioned about why I had left the porch, I replied, "I just wanted to see my grampa." (Michael Eugene Traver, "Grampa," standing, 9th from the left with hat tilted back)

When my grampa was constable of Noxen, he didn't refer to himself as a cop. He didn't allow others to either. To my grampa, the term "cop" was one of disrespect, as if the job had little significance. He was "Chief Traver," or "Officer Traver." After all, the official mail he received from the state was addressed to Chief of Police Michael Traver."

Each night, when he put on his police uniform, his shirt was standard blue, crisply pressed. The jacket was spotless. His pants had perfect front creases. And his hat was always on straight. Grampa was the law in a small town in the '50's and '60's. The only law. He could have worn anything he wanted...flannel shirt, t-shirt, torn and faded overalls, old boots or straw hat. After all, it was just a dinky town in the middle of nowhere. But to my grampa, it wasn't the size of the town. It was the size of the responsibility. And he embraced that responsibility in every aspect. It didn't matter that most of the "streets" he patrolled were lanes with two wheel ruts, or that the biggest crime he encountered was a domestic dispute involving a couple he'd probably watched grow up. Grampa never thought of himself in lesser terms than "Chief of Police," and as a result, that attitude spilled over into other aspects of his life.

A handshake was your word, good for the long haul, as binding as a signed contract. Never lie. Look a man straight in the eye. Do the right thing, even when no one is watching. Take care of your neighbor. Simple, practical, uncomplicated...the way to live a long, peaceful life.