Grace and Jean are life-long friends who live in Clarion, PA. They shared their stories with me at a local Subway.
I grew up in Snydersburg, came to work in Clarion, and married the boss of the company. He was one of seven brothers in the business. I’m the 11th in my family, and he was the 11th in his family. We settled down here; my husband’s older brother was building homes, so we moved into one of the homes he built. 55 years later, I’m still in it.
My husband died a day after our 49th wedding anniversary, but I won’t leave; this is home. The people are nice and we know everybody…the problem is, everyone knows us ;)
- Grace, Clarion, PA
We met at a square dance. All he was looking for was a girl, anyway - he wasn’t looking to dance. He was Italian, and a businessman. We married on June 6, 1956, and moved into our house on June 6, 1966. What do all those 6’s mean, anyway?
We had five children, and now I have 8 grandkids: Kayla, Kyle, Kimmie, Kelly, Justin, Sal, Chantal, and Katie. Grace and I volunteer at the hospital twice a week, and we do a lot of church work. We have a huge Catholic church uptown - one of the largest Catholic churches in the region.
My son Rick died at 49 with diabetes. My husband passed as well. I still live in the same house and I’m not moving, ever. I’ve lived her my whole life and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
- Jean, Clarion, PA
I don’t have a story. I grew up here and never left. I was too stupid to get out when I could, when I was young. The truth is, if you don’t get out by the time you’re 25, you never leave.
- Diane, East Liverpool, OH
Tim shares why he lives in East Liverpool, Ohio, while visiting at the local YMCA.
Did I say Beast? No, sorry. I meant Best. The title should have read, Beauty and the Best Life in Barrow. Having lived here now for 18 years – longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere – I can tell you that life here isn’t for everyone. It’s an acquired taste. The population of Barrow is about 65% Inupiat which gives it its distinct cultural flavor. It is pervasive. The Inupiat are the most welcoming and truly friendly people I’ve ever met. They kindly share their culture, their food and their prosperity with hundreds of foreign workers that come here every year to earn a good living.
The guest workers sometimes come for the excitement of living in an exotic place: their northern exposure year. They stay for a year or two then move somewhere else. Others find Barrow relentlessly boring bereft as it is of bar, bowling alley and cinema. The singles scene here is nonexistent – or so I’m told. Still others come with unshakably preconceived notions of what life should be like, what’s fair and unfair and exactly which parts of nature are beautiful. They find Barrow to be dark, cold and insanely flat and windswept.
I came here because I desperately needed a job. The one I found may well be the best library job in Alaska. I go to work everyday happy and anxious to be in the finest building on the North Slope. But it’s more than just the job that keeps me here. For the first time in my life I feel that I can really make a contribution to librarianship in ways that I wasn’t able to before. But that isn’t all.
When I came here I believed like most of the rest of the world that mountains and trees and rivers were natures way of saying, “Here’s the best and the most beautiful.” It never occurred to me that nature had no intention of being either beautiful or ugly. These are human perceptions. Nature just is. Flat is just as beautiful and awe inspiring as mountainous. Ice and snow are just as varied and intricate as trees.
It isn’t really dark here in the winter as the snow and ice reflect the sun’s light from below the horizon as well as the starlight and moonlight from above it. The sky goes through amazing hues of blue. The human body adjusts to this place like any other and one sleeps as well in the summer as the winter. The cold is a dry cold and you dress for it. Your body acclimates to that too. The easterly wind in your face at -20 degrees bites and braces. I’m fascinated with life in the arctic. It makes me glad to be alive.
There are no cockroaches, spiders, ticks, fleas, mice, snakes, toads, or other pesky creatures here including mosquitoes for most of the year. Even in the summer, mosquitoes hang inland as the coastal breeze keeps them from Barrow. Living in Barrow sometimes feels like living in a foreign country. Sometimes it even feels like living on another planet. I try to remain mindful that I am a guest here and even though this is part of Alaska, it is truly the land of the Inupiat. It is their land and their home. If Alaska had been part of the lower 48, this would have been a Native reservation and the people here would have sovereign control of the land.
Attempts by the Governor and Legislators and the oil companies to take from the North Slope Borough its control over the land and take from it the wealth that is rightfully theirs is misguided and smacks of racism. The people of Alaska benefit greatly from North Slope oil. They should not be so greedy that they insist on taking it away from the people to whom it has belonged for thousands of years. We should all be thankful that the Inupiat are more than willing to share the bounty of their land. I know I am.
- David Ongley, Director, Tuzzy Consortium Library
This letter was republished courtesy of David Ongley. Photos courtesy of David Ongley and the AKLA.
Barrow, Alaska, is the largest city in the North Slope Borough of Alaska. Population 4,429.
I received your letter yesterday. My wife Lori and I were born and raised here in Dickinson, ND. Both of our families homesteaded In SW ND. Both of our immediate families are here. We live here because we both have great careers and we have a successful property investment business. Lori is an accountant and I am a Civil Engineer. We are fortunate to have not experienced the bad economy and unemployment that most of the nation has gone through. We are very thankful for that.
All photos courtesy of Aaron A.
Maybe roots have no brains, but they sure have heart.
It would be easy to say that I live in Oakland because I’ve always lived here. But inertia only goes so far! What’s not to like about a city where fans kept cheering their team after they lost their last playoff game. Our mayor, Jean Quan, said it best in her newsletter: “But it is the defeat on Thursday I will never forget. Hoping for that 16th walk-off victory and cheering at the window, I felt the immediate heart ache… But then I looked down at the crowd…No one had moved, instead everyone was on their feet shouting “Let’s Go Oakland” during what seemed like a five minute standing ovation drowning out the ceremonies for the Tigers. I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER HOW PROUD IT MADE ME FEEL TO BE FROM OAKLAND. We as a City are so much like this team: so much heart, we never give up.”
Maybe roots have no brains, but they sure have heart.
Family is it for me. It’s really why I’m here.
"It’s a Y’ALL world, after all…"
I wrote this as a possible t-shirt for my company, Dodge’s Chicken; Southern Style is our motto. I hope it captures the essence of the South and explains why we live where we do. You know, during the summer heat and humidity (and Southern women glisten A LOT, we don’t sweat!) I sometimes question why on earth I live here, but the I think about everything I have listed here and I am reminded about what a wonderful place it is. You always read about spring being a time of renewal, but here, it is the fall, the first day that the humidity drops and temps are in the seventies, you can hear a collective deep breath being drawn in and we spring to life again. This is the place when you can say the most insulting things about someone, but because we smile and say “Bless their hearts”, it is acceptable. The South is full of contraditions, but that is because there are so many layers, just like our biscuits! My South is also very inclusive, but we do try very hard not to let on how wonderful it is to live here, because we don’t want to be crowded with people that don’t understand us. I personally think Florida isn’t a Southern state at all, that is broke loose from New York at some point and floated down. But if someone is lucky enough to be transplanted here and loves it, we tell them that we know they got here as quickly as they could. But we also may say “Just because a cat has kittens in a oven, doesn’t make them biscuits”- again, layers and contradictions. Makes it so much fun to live here and I sure hope you will come see us soon!