Patrushka and I wandered around Clarion, PA this morning. It’s the county seat with a big red brick 1880s courthouse dominating the town’s little skyline, just like in county seats all over the east and midwest. Quiet and peaceful; not too prosperous, not too poor. The streets around the courthouse are blooming this morning with purple and pink and white rhododendrons.
I like these little country towns of the east. I walk them with a sense of relief. To a stranger just passing though, on a morning like this Clarion looks and smells and sounds like heaven. I like the main street with the County Seat Coffee Shop “open from sunrise” and the local CVS pharmacy with friendly clerks giving me lots of friendly advice without seeming a bit like their boss tols them they had to be nice to the customers. I like the courthouse with the burly motorcycle guy coming down the front steps nearly bumping in to the droop-shouldered lawyer plodding up the same stairs. At least I assume he’s a lawyer. He’s the only guy in town I’ve seen wearing a business suit.
I like the big Victorians lining the streets. Their practical country-minded owners have, almost to a house, resided them with vinyl. It ain’t wood and doesn’t have the same lovely timeworn feeling of real clapboards. But I guess it doesn’t rot and I guess it’s less expensive and it doesn’t look half bad, and you know what? It does the trick.
And I like to see the grandmother and her granddaughter walking down the sunny morning street hand in hand. It’s the way it’s spozed to be, like in Penrod or Betsy and Tacy and Tib.
I like the town square across from the courthouse. The people of Clarion County know how to honor their war dead properly and here’s where they do it. In the center of the square stands the big cenotaph monument to their Civil Way dead. Union soldiers stand an eternal honor guard on all four sides.
On two corners of the square World War I guns point agressively towards whatever might still be out there in the town’s shops. They’re black and gleaming, not a spot of rust — as if they had just been rolled off the truck, yet they are “the model of 1906” according to the stamp on their forged steel barrels.
Placed throughout the square are smaller monuments — to the dead of WWI, WWII, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and POW/MIAs. Little American flags still flutter in the breeze around each monument. I want to sit on the bench provided for passing ponderers and imagine each young man who might have lived out his life in this peaceful little haven, yet didn’t.
There’s a small college here – Clarion College. A few young people are already up and perhaps slouching towards class. There’s a couple of tattoo parlors and a couple of bars.
Houses are reasonable here compared to either coast, according to the pictures in the windows of the local ReMax realty. I think I’d like to live in a town like Clarion. But I don’t know. Would we have even one thing in common with these excellent small town folks? Would we always feel like strangers? Or, if we started volunteering in the community, maybe got a job at the college, would we be welcomed and start to fit in? The town eccentrics, strange but nice?
Well, I’ll never know. We’re moving on west.