I drove back through town today. Desperately I tried to enlist the use of brevity when forming my thoughts. That was not to be.
My drive brought back smiles and memories, as well as some wonder of where it all went wrong, and the burning question of whether it could have been any different.
Monessen, a town by a river -- perhaps it was never destined for more than that.
There is something to be said for attending the same high school as my father and uncle. Sadly, it is now torn down.
It amazes me to think that my grandfather showed the first movie in the Manos Theatre and the very last as well. How I enjoyed sitting and watching from the projection booth; how I would love to look at the theater again -- that is torn down as well.
I am 40 on the threshold of 41. Actually, I am more of someone in the hallway looking at 41 from a distance, but you get my point. I am not the first generation to have my memories torn down and replaced in Monessen; I am sure I won't be the last.
Here I am complaining, when I myself have added to the growing problem. I (like many) moved away. My wife is from Peters. I am one of those who moved away, wanted to stay away and trade up for a better school district, a better landscape, a better life. I then complain (from a distance) that there may be no more Monessen High School.
I suppose some of us who moved away view Monessen like a pilot views a parachute: He knows it is there, but hopes to never to have to use it. For selfish reasons I wanted the town to stay the same. I wanted somewhere to connect, connect with my youth, and at the same time ignore it on a regular basis unless the mood of memory hunting took me back home. Nostalgic personal greed, I suppose.
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I drove around looking for ghosts. Please do not misunderstand -- I was not looking for the ghosts that scare young children (and some adults); I was merely searching for that emotional imprint, that chill that only a perfectly executed slice of youthful nostalgia can give a person.
Instead, I found emptiness, a lonely town that seemed to whisper Marlon Brando's famous line from "On the Waterfront" -- "I could have been a contender" -- as I passed all the closed storefronts of my youth.
Being 40, I remember a better town, and I suppose if I were 80 and lived in Monessen the whole tenure of my 80 years, I would remember it as an even better place.
The stories of Mayor Parente and the glory years are mere reflections of my childhood as told by people I thought were old, whose age I am as I type this. It is funny how things change.
I stopped on First Street to see my grandmother's house. I remember from Christmases as a child that I loved around 1 a.m. to open the door and see the whole hill down to Betty and Jane's Corner Store covered in snow, with Christmas lights and the snow falling as the streetlights reflected it all. In my youth, that was as close to being in a snow globe as one could get.
I miss those days. I miss that town the way it used to be, and I miss my parents being young, even though back then I thought they were old. Someday they will not be in that town, either. They will join the list of things long gone, and then what?
I assume I will still drive around town every now and then and look for the ghosts of a place and time I used to know. In the end, when it is all said and done, come what may, that town by a river is a contender and will always be home to me.
Shawn Crosby of Peters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.