The Colgate Scene
November 2000
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Jack and Pam Kingsbury returned to town and campus to reconnect and learn

Jack and Pam Kingsbury
A village in flux

by Jack Kingsbury '59

It was Thomas Wolfe's reminder that we "can not go home again" that played over and over in my head as I drove the 1,200 miles from Alabama, where I live now, to Hamilton, New York.

     I should explain that I am that rarae aves, a Hamiltonian by birth and a graduate of both Hamilton High School (class of 1955) and Colgate (class of 1959). My high school classmates had decided that 45 years was a big enough span of time to have another class reunion. While it was a very pleasant event, I must say that I was disappointed that a group of 60-year-olds had decided to invade the party at the Colgate Inn, leaving no room for the teenagers I had gone to school with.

     I did find that Wolfe was correct. Hamilton is a town in flux, and Colgate, a university in progress with a campus marked by construction. Art buildings seem to be quite popular.

     It must be made clear that while the university is growing, the village seems to be contracting. My first walk around the business district was brought to a halt on Lebanon Street. Maph Plesniarski was piling shoes in front of his store. He was going out of business, and this would also mean that the pistol target range in his cellar would also be gone. The two drug stores from my childhood are now closed and only one grocery store is open in a village where four stores were once located on a single intersection. It is also disconcerting to realize that just one gas station now exists, when eight were in business on Utica Street alone, and that the Blue Bird is also now closed.

     Yet if there is any question of Hamilton's economic viability, all that is necessary is to talk to those individuals who work there. Many of the people who hold jobs in the village are commuters. Their downtowns are too small to be able to offer them a job.

     A very nice woman showed me around one of the new buildings on campus near the quad. As we walked around the structure she talked to me about her daily commute from Brookfield. I was saved from the maze that is the new library by a man who recognized me as a local because I was wearing a Loomis gang T-shirt. He commutes from Hubbardsville daily. A visit to the movie theatre, where I have seen at least a hundred movies, led to a conversation with a young woman who manages the facility. She commutes from Waterville every day and holds two jobs in Hamilton.

     These examples can be easily increased. It is quite clear that the presence of the university is beneficial and that the village offers enough opportunities to make it a viable entity.

     No, Hamilton is not a ghost town. It is bucking a national trend. Drive Rt. 80 from Sherburne to Cooperstown and witness empty houses, schools in disrepair and businesses that are closed.

     Hamilton remains alive. One of the most popular projects in town is the Farmers' Market. I can vouch for the quality of foods and crafts that are on sale every Saturday morning. It must also be pointed out that the market is symbolic of what seems to be the most obvious example of the tension between town and gown. Longtime Hamiltonians refer to the market site as "the park," whereas the university labels it "the green." While this difference in vocabulary may seem trivial, it represents the gap that now seems to exist between town and gown.

     Several decades ago faculty members taught for 40 or more years. Their children were in classes with the town students and frequently the wives of professors taught in the local schools. Town and gown met in stores and along the streets. Unfortunately, a gap seems to be growing between the village and the university. For most of its history, the village has been larger than the university, but now Colgate is larger than the village, thereby creating a nearly paranoid perspective in the minds of some villagers. It seems to be their belief that the university intends to buy and control the town. Thus are seen the attempts to revive the business district and stabilize the community.

     The relationship between the university and the village is a win-win situation for both. The village needs the university and Colgate needs Hamilton, for the two together form a complete entity. It is clear to me that I can never forget or abandon my hometown or my alma mater, for they formed me.

Whether "on the green" or "in the park," the Farmers' Market is a Hamilton tradition
A writer among writers

by Pam Kingsbury

My husband Jack and I have been on the mailing list for the Chenango Valley Writers' Conference since its inception. We've followed its growth and talked with friends and friends of friends who've attended. Their experiences had been good -- their critiques positive. So when Jack's 45th high school reunion (he attended the old school that was on Broad Street) coincided with the conference, the timing seemed perfect. Jack could spend two weeks visiting his hometown (or, as he calls it, "The center of the known universe,") while I attended the conference.

     Colgate's academic reputation made me feel self-conscious about my state-supported alma maters. Also, I've never lost my southern accent, which occasionally makes encounters with the world outside the deep south unnecessarily complicated. To my horror, when we lived in New Mexico, I was routinely asked about the Klan, and a New York publicist once asked me if all southerners lived in trailers.

     All of my fears about being at Colgate for a week were ungrounded. The "hello" tradition at the university is real. Everyone we encountered both on campus and in the village was extraordinarily kind and helpful. Director of Summer Programs Matt Leone teased that "Southern hospitality has migrated north."

     Spending a week immersed in literature was a dream come true. I read works by the featured authors prior to the conference and had decided that the time would have been well spent even if I didn't enjoy all of the craft talks and readings. Obviously, I had chosen favorite books, and there were authors I particularly wanted to meet. Yet I found that all of the authors in attendance were professional, accessible, personable, kind, gracious and gentle. All of my classmates came to the conference taking their craft seriously.

     The daily craft talks were invaluable. On Monday, Kelly Cherry opened the conference by reading an essay on how she came to be a poet. Her line, "I'm a poet, not a prostitute," brought down the house and set the tone for the week. We all learned that we could be serious about ourselves as writers and still have fun.

     My workshop was justifiably proud of Pam Durban's craft talk on Saturday. She made the rules of writing fiction sound so simple that we all felt that we too could become published authors. I suspect that every workshop member secretly believed that he or she had the best instructor at the conference.

     Hearing a writer read always imprints the voice and tone of the author on the work for me. I had long been a fan of Fred Busch, Kelly Cherry, Pam Durban and Peter Balakian. I had read Tom Sleigh, Sheila Kohler, Lee K. Abbott, Ann Mohin, Christopher Tilghman and Caroline Preston in the weeks before the conference. Each of the featured writers gave memorable readings. It was particularly delightful to have been in the audience for the debut reading from Karen Novak's soon-to-be-published first novel Five Mile House and Ann Mohin's The Farm She Was, as both are Chenango Valley Writers' Conference alumni.

     For me, most of the memorable moments from the conference have little to do with the nuts and bolts of writing. They've been much more impressionistic. I loved seeing Fred Busch and Pam Durban together because they've known each other so long. Watching Kelly Cherry and her fiancé, novelist Burke Davis III, zip around in her little Honda with the windows down earned them my vote for "cutest couple." I liked imagining my husband as a student at Colgate when the school was still all male. It was nice seeing Peter Balakian riding his bike around the village green and overhearing him comparing childrearing tips with longtime friends Chris Tilghman and Caroline Preston. Matt Leone and his artist wife Denise were ever-present, considerate hosts encouraging everyone to mix, connect and enjoy. And no visit to Colgate or Hamilton is ever complete for me without a few quiet moments in the Chapel.

     Whether or not I ever write fiction, I'm glad I attended the Chenango Valley Writers' Conference. I liked all of my classmates and hope to see their fiction in print some day. It was good to remember what if feels like to be a student (doubly so since I'm returning to the classroom this fall). And we were very glad that we decided to drive because we were able to indulge the Kingsbury household's passion for books during the trip. All of the writers were pleasant to talk with and I enjoyed meeting Colgate's staff (many of whom are fine storytellers in their own right).

     I've long benefited from Jack's Colgate experience and education, and I genuinely hope that my students and community will benefit from mine.

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