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The following is Lenore Jackson’s description of Devon, taken from deleted pages of “The Attic Notebooks”

Devon

Devon is a town of about three thousand.  At one point it had over ten thousand people happily working in the mills, homemaking for people working in the mills, selling groceries and other sundries to people who worked in the mill, or going to one of Devon’s five public schools and waiting until they were old enough to work in the mill.  When the mills closed, so did three of the schools and a number of stores.  Housing for ten thousand still stand, but many have ragged lawns and broken windows.  The local paper is filled with foreclosure and auction notices.  Every month there is an electrical fire and an apartment house burns down.  These are the wooden structures built during the war and the economic boom that followed.  They are the last hired, first fired of the town’s real estate.  Devon Union High School is in the middle of this section of town.  On the other side of Devon are the brick houses originally built to house the managers of the first red brick mills that line the river that snakes through the town.  There are plans for renewal, but many involve either luring in companies that send jobs elsewhere, or tearing down blocks of houses to ease the reminders of the past.  Surrounded by mountains we never climb, a pair of railroad tracks runs through the middle of town alongside the Devon river.

My father was hurt a year before his mill closed.  They made shoes, and my father never tired of joking that he gave his soul to the place.  Our entire family is tall, which facilitates telling bad jokes.  Short people have the reputation for being funny, but tall, angular workingmen with thinning hair and glasses are the bread and butter of shop floor humor.  The nature of physical humor requires elongated caricature.  In hindsight, he should have known layoffs were coming as maintenance of the machinery had moved from dodgy to perilous.  Each month preceding his accident a new story about someone nearly losing a finger, toe or their life made its way around the break room.  His accident was February’s story.  When his arm was ripped off he received a nice settlement and a monthly stipend.  The company had tried to get him to accept early retirement, to be paid out over his lifetime, but he wisely insisted on a lump sum.  Lying in the hospital bed, he had told the company lawyer that having his empty sleeve pinned to his suit jacket would be enough to swing any jury towards whatever he asked for; no words would be necessary.  The lawyer must have agreed, my father had asked for a humble amount, and a check was waiting when the hospital finally released him.  A year later the company’s liability costs outstripped the cost of moving elsewhere, and they did move.  Now people are losing digits elsewhere while people in Devon wonder what to do next.

When the mills were cranking out sneakers and letter tiles, Devon boasted five public schools.  Three were elementary schools, short and squat with large windows and red bricks looking too much like the factories surrounding them, serving the three sections of Devon.  Then there was the Devon Union Middle School and the Devon Union High School, both multilevel blocks built after World War I with loud clanging radiators below tall windows.  These last two sat on opposite sides of the town, with the specific intent that half the town would ride the busses for three years of middle school while the other half rode it for the four years of high school.  It was fairer than fair, our town fathers declared.  The wealthier side of town rode the bus for the four years of high school, while the poor kids rode for only three.  As the mills closed down, the town tried to keep this balance.  At first, the middle school was closed and each elementary school served students from kindergarten through eighth grade.  It did not save much money, though.  Three short and squat buildings meant three physical plants, three principals and a secretarial staff, and three times as many books, desks and supplies.  Eventually, the elementary schools were shut down and Devon Union Middle School became simply Devon Union Community School.  Serving kindergarten through eighth grade, now half of the town (poor) rode the busses for nine years, while the other half (rich) only four.  The great experiment in social engineering and fairness turned out as they always do, unfair in favor of the wealthy.

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Posted January 4, 2011 by Tom Triumph

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