Monday, March 10, 2014

Maybe It's Time For a Mid-Life Crisis

1912 Centennial 
Three weeks from today, Norristown becomes a year older. Our town birthday is March 31st. Had our founders been considerate of future generations, they'd have incorporated in the summer, so we could have a big outdoor party every year. As it is, Norristown rarely celebrates its birthday except, so far, at 50 year intervals.

I was talking to a friend who had a birthday this past week. She turned 33, and was lamenting her lost youth. She felt as if she hadn't accomplished anything in life. I remembered that age, and having felt the same way. That was my first mid-life crisis. I pointed out to my friend that at 33, I hadn't had anything published yet, and was still 6 years from even beginning my first novel that would make it into print. But, easy to look back in hindsight.

I feel that Norristown's a bit like my friend. Everyone keeps saying our best years are behind us. Sure, when I think back to the 1960s, I remember factories and a bustling downtown. Logan Square was full of open stores. We had 5 full elementary schools within the town borders.

N-town at 150 years
Yet I also remember factories closing, and more homeless people, most of them either outpatients of the State Hospital or alcoholics. Many of the latter were veterans who'd never adjusted to life after World War II and Korea. I remember a whole lot more hate openly expressed between races, even between cultures and religions in town. I remember poor sections of Norristown seeming much more desperately poor than they are now. I remember Elmwood Park Zoo consisting only of a duck pond, 2 ill-kept bears, and a "monkey house" that always smelled horrible.

I also remember older people in the 1960s, saying Norristown had been better in their day. I'm guessing that in their youth, their parents and grandparents had said the same thing. Dwelling on "The Good Old Days" is one of the favorite pastimes of many of our long-time residents--a tradition passed down through generations. But we've all nostalgically sorted and rearranged those memories to be something shinier than they really were (You don't believe me? Go read old copies of the Times Herald). History ought to be something we learn from, but it only works if we're honest about the bad times.

So this birthday, let's just look back as far as the last year. Yes, crime is still a problem, though we've hired a new police chief to help remedy that. The Norristown Project has made our streets look better. Good things are happening on Arts Hill and at Riverfront Park. Several volunteer groups are working with our youth. Our business people are banding together. Restaurants and businesses have opened. And one thing I've noticed above all--there are a lot less nasty comments about Norristown on social media. We have much to celebrate this birthday. We shouldn't wait another 48 years for our Sestercentennial (250th).

Our Bicentennial
Norristown Preservation Society is inviting everyone out to Selma Mansion on March 29th from 1 to 4:30 pm for a Norristown Birthday Party. They're going to have speakers talking about Norristown's history, a Norristown Jeopardy Game and cake.  All NASD school students accompanied by an adult get in free with ID. Norristown resident adults with ID get in for only $5 (proceeds go toward restoring Selma). I'll have more info as the date approaches, but put it on your calendar now.

Are our best years behind us? I think older cities and towns would laugh at us. We're only 202 years old Paris is over 2200. At our age, she was still filled with hunters and farmers cooking over open fires. Time to stop looking behind us, Norristown, and start looking ahead.

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