Thursday, July 16, 2015

Whittler’s Corner revived in Fort Payne City Park by John Dersham

I did not get to attend Mayor Larry Chesser’s dedication ceremony of Whittler’s Corner in the Fort Payne City Park last Saturday, but I love the idea of having it. I think the mayor had a great idea in re-establishing Whittler’s corner, tree stump horseshoes and togetherness. Retro technologies and lifestyles are very popular again and are increasingly so among young people. The next thing becoming more popular is retro cultural experiences. These are places you can visit or create yourself that are not just retro in appearance but retro in the experience. There are examples of this all throughout culture. Collecting and listening to LP’s instead of CD’s is very popular. Retro photography using film and darkroom has a growing niche. Pottery, quilt making, woodworking and the list goes on and on. No technology either scientific, art or craft ever completely disappears. You can now take a vacation to a paid destination that by design takes you off the grid. No smart phones, notebooks, TV, email or text. Oh my, it might mean you will sit around a campfire and talk or sit on the front porch of a lodge with no TV or connectivity. You might eat together, walk together, and catch lighting bugs together. Maybe you’ll hike at night or just sit out and look at the stars. It is amazing how we can entertain ourselves if the options we have been using are no longer available, even if it is only for a day or a week.
When I was in high school I was in Columbia, Missouri. Columbia was and is a sort of upscale college town but all around it was good old solid Americana, rural towns. As a family we would go to those towns in the evening or a weekend just to mill around. We’d eat there (no chain restaurants), we walk around to various shops and usually ended up somewhere local for ice cream. In 1972, I moved to Nashville, TN and began working for Colorcraft/Kodak film processing. I had been in photography for a long time already by that time. I was the middle Tennessee sales representative. Included in my territory was Nashville but also towns like Gallatin, Dickson, Lewisburg, Pulaski, Lawrenceburg, Columbia, Clarksville, Ashland, Franklin, Shelbyville and many more. Many of these towns were county seats with a courthouse square. In those days many of our accounts were on the square. Back then all drugstores sold cameras, film and photofinishing and most towns had a mom and pop camera store too. Yes, by then the outskirts had K-Mart and some other chain retailers that used our products and services too. In the 70’s all of those small towns were filled with men sitting around the courthouse yard wearing bib overalls and whittling and in many cases there were horseshoe and checker games going on. Since I was into photography I liked to take pictures in those downtown areas. I often checked out the courthouse lawn and see who was sitting out there solving the world’s problems. These guys were products of the great depression and World War II; they were hard working farmers, laborers or local business people. They were in the 70’s or 80’s by then they were retired…taking it easy whittling, talking to lifelong friends and probably talking politics and about the younger generation that seemed rather worthless to them. You know they won’t work and have that long hair and won’t do what they are told, was in the conversation. In 1982, my family and I moved to Philadelphia, PA as a company promotion and I got separated from those quaint middle TN rural towns. In the 1990’s we were again living near enough to Nashville to make trips there. We’d go through some of the towns that were part of my old stomping grounds but by then the elderly men on the courthouse lawn were gone. They died out and my generation that followed did not have whittling in their culture. By then, air conditioning, TV and various other entertainment venues were occupying the senior’s time. You could find them in the morning at any coffee shop, however, not whittling, not playing horseshoes or checkers but they were drinking coffee and talking about politics and that younger generation.
Myself and other Baby Boomers were here for the non electronic culture and we are here for the new technologies and most of us use new technology in one way or another all the time and the new technologies are great but sometimes I like to think back to a time less congested with technology that takes you away from a simpler form of communicating with others and simpler more easy going forms of entertainment, like sitting on the porch in the evening, playing in the yard with the kids watching daylight fade to darkness then staying out to enjoy the stars and the cooling air. I think we all need a little retro in our lives a little calm a little time to revive the spirit. I am glad we have revived Whittler’s Corner as a renewed addition to Fort Payne City Park. Horseshoes anyone?