For years I’d avoid the long answer to that question with a simple, “I grew up in California”. Which was, for the most part, true. When I landed in Santa Barbara California in 1968, I was free, white and 21, as they say. I did a helluva lot of growing up in the late 60s/early 70s.
Most people accepted that answer. They’d nod and we’d talk about how beautiful Southern California was and blah blah blah.. It was easier than going through the whole story. For most, that was sufficient and I would avoid having to tell the story of growing up in a little mill town in central Connecticut called, Naugatuck. I still had issues with the place.
I really had grown to dislike the town. After graduating high school in 1965, most of my school chums had gone off to college and I slowly grew to feel stuck in a place where the attitudes of the people were (and probably still are ) provincial, judgmental and it was getting worse. Growing into my twenties, there, was stifling.
Besides the narrow minded attitudes that I was running into, another life changing event occurred when, at age 20, I lost both my parents. That is another story, another time. It took me a little time to sort things out but I saw that as a sign to get on with my life. My last months in Naugatuck were filled with grief and loss and a growing sense of confinement. A complete change of scenery and attitude was called for. There were things going on in the world and society that eclipsed that pain and I needed to get on with it. Life was calling.
So I packed up everything I needed and moved to beautiful Santa Barbara CA where a new life was awaiting me. I wanted nothing to do with what I left behind. It was easier to cubbyhole that first twenty years of my life and start fresh. You could be anything you want this time around as Timothy Leary told us.
Santa Barbara, one of the most beautiful places in the world, provided plenty to distract me. It became my crucible. New attitudes and ways of looking at life spoke to me so loud and clear that the first 20 years faded away. It was not hard to keep it all in tightly closed boxes in the attic of my mind. I have successfully kept them ‘taped up’ for over 40 years. I rarely thought about them.
Until this last weekend… a friend turned me on to a Facebook page that is entitled “You are probably from Naugatuck if…”
Out of boredom I opened up the page. The result has been huge. It was like pulling everything out of the attic, opening the boxes and dumping them all over the floor. I was surrounded by bits and pieces of my early life. I have been glued to my computer ever since, reading about and commenting on all things, Naugatuck. A lot of people are participating in a reevaluation of the place and state of mind of my little town… the high school, the main street, the buildings, the landmarks, the neighborhoods, the people that I grew up with, names and places all swirling on my computer screen.
I am not sure what it is about this whole process that makes it so compelling.
One reason might be that focusing on the bygone days is soothing, safe and a lot more fun than dealing with the reality of economies tanking, rioting in the streets, and the rest of the world collapsing. Maybe it is a bit of burying one’s head in the sand while we try to figure out who lived on the corner, or where were you when the plane landed in the highschool parking lot but the result is we have given ourselves a bit of a respite from the world of TODAY. The idea of visiting those mellow years when comics cost a nickel and gas was 25 a gallon is very attractive and soothing.
But it also provides me with a slightly different perspective on my ‘growing years’ that is oddly healing for me.
I understand that some of this is the natural forgetting of the crappy parts and only seeing the good parts. But as I read the posts, I realize I am not looking with disdain at those first 20 years. This has been (is) therapeutic in a strange way. I am seeing how idyllic it was to grow up in a fairly prosperous little mill town with some rich history. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. I’m really glad I got out when I did. But of all the places that a kid could grow up in the 50s and 60s this wasn’t such a bad place. It was, in fact, pretty idyllic. As a post war baby boomer, life was pretty darned good.
All in all I am pretty happy with the way it all turned out. There is very little I would change in my life at this point. I am successful in my career, I have three healthy, beautiful and intelligent kids. I enjoy good health. I am pretty darned happy. And now for the first time in the 43 years since I have left, I have a different take on the town I grew up in.