John Bressler-032312Listen to John Bressler's latest column - A light in the darkness.
Julie and I had been officially dating for about six months and most of her family seemed to like me. What's not to like? We were going to visit her favorite on this particular day. She was Baba Mamie, Julie's grandmother, who lived on the fifth floor of the Simmons Apartment Complex. As we started to walk into the foyer, I heard a, "Yoo Hoo!" and looked up to see Baba Mamie leaning over her railing and tossing some candy down to us. I liked her already.
I don't remember a lot about the visit, but we got along just fine. Julie leaned over and whispered, "She thinks you look like one of the actors from the old Bonanza show." I knew I was too young to be Ben Cartwright, knew it couldn't be Little Joe, so it was a toss-up between Adam or Hoss. Grandma Mamie was a charmer. By the way, I now look like old Ben.
From her balcony, we could look west and see downtown Huntington. Take it from me, it was the largest and most beautiful city in West Virginia, and we were proud to call it home.
Things were beginning to change. Most of you remember the 60s and the changes that began to sweep across our nation, and our town wasn't spared. Coal mining and natural gas lost its favor, so the mines began to close and the big industries we took for granted shut down or simply moved away. The first shopping mall opened in the east end and our downtown stores turned into thrift shops or large vacant buildings without purpose. The wonderful neon lights, the sights and sounds of families enjoying one another and carrying shopping bags full of merchandise, and the lines waiting to see the latest movie began to disappear.
The last time we visited with Baba Mamie, she took us out onto her balcony, pointed to the city and said softly, "Devastation!
Devastation!" Her wonderful city was shutting down, one block at a time, and she was watching helplessly. There was nothing more to say.
Sometimes, we all feel that way. Most likely, there's not one person out there who doesn't remember going back home to a town that exists only in his or her memory: the place where all the kids hung out, the old school, the streets we knew like the back of our hand, and the moments in our young lives that warmed our hearts and brought peace to our souls are gone forever, never to return.
For Julie and me, we've been back to Huntington and don't want to go back ever again. The tree-lined avenues seem to be more narrow, the city has lost its charm and we wonder if it had ever been what we cherished. My old high school is now a nursing home, most of the stately homes and neighborhood residences are rentals and people don't seem to smile much. I read an article out of the Statesboro Herald that said the happiest state in the Union was Wyoming and the saddest was West Virginia. My heart is breaking.
Please, let's not wallow around in what was, used to be or what may or may not have been, "The good old days." There is devastation today, but there is hope for tomorrow. All may appear to be lost, but keep the faith, for we have been found.
"God did not send His Son into this world to condemn the world (or destroy it), but that through Him the world might be saved."
Let me stand on the balcony and take one more look. What do I see? I see a light in the darkness! I see a home waiting for all of us.