FAMILY AND WORK LIFE AT BU
I often think of my family back in Binghamton. The name Binghamton is an anomaly when applied to where I worked and lived. My wife and I at one time or another had both held full professorships at Binghamton University (which is one part of the New York State University System).
This portion of the University was not located in Binghamton. Both the university and our home were located in Vestal. Vestal is a bedroom community tucked away between the Susquehanna River and the Pennsylvania border.
We were a University family of the first order. Even my mother held a Ph.D. . My father had earned a master’s in electrical engineering and had suffered greatly for it. My mother constantly reminded him of his lowly status. He escaped into the netherworld via suicide by alcohol.
That is why my mother lived with us.
The community surrounding the university never understood us.
By “us” I mean both my family and the university. The locals were mostly second generation Slavs whose parents worked in the shoe factories. The shoe factories had shut down because of the competition of cheap imports.
I should be quick to add that there was a secondary reason for the shut down. It was the fact that the owners of the business never upgraded to the next generation of shoe machinery. Even the foreign competitors were using plastic injection presses to form the lower parts of the shoe. The local factories stayed with the old method of building an all leather shoe by hand; piece by piece.
One time our university drama students put on a play that required blood to be dispersed on stage. An enterprising student located some lamb blood at a small butcher shop in the countryside. The play was executed, the blood was thrown, and the local paper was mortified. The university was accused of practicing voodoo and devil ritual.
A period of three weeks elapsed before the whole story died down.
The area around Binghamton University was steeped in deep forest and tradition. Newcomers to the area could find various sections of the cities (there were actually three; Binghamton, Endicott and Johnson City) having strong ethnical ties.
The north side of Endicott was Italian. Each home had its own tomato garden and every block had its Bocce Ball Court. Pizza joints were on every corner and each one had its own style of pizza.
The north side of Johnson City consisted of Slavs. One specific section was even named Polish Heaven. You could find food stores that carried kielbasa and, around lent time, perohi. Little old ladies could still be seen wearing babushkas (head scarves), black stockings and high topped leather work boots. They looked so cute carrying their hand-woven willow baskets to the market on Saturday mornings.
The south side of Binghamton was mostly Irish and had its own flavor of Irish pubs. “Swat Sullivan’s” was a favorite watering hole for the university students. It was torn down and replaced by a pizza factory.
Each city had its own “town character.” Johnson City had its “Masti Huba” (Greasy Face), a lovable bum. Binghamton had “Bright Eyes”, a perpetual drunk who rode around on a bicycle – – – raccoon tails flying from the ends of its handle-bars. Endicott had “Old Joe”, a vagrant who mysteriously disappeared promptly at 6 P.M. every night.
My wife and I had one child, a son, who had us confused from the day he was born. He had a clean bill of health from the doctors but screamed like a banshee when he was born. You would have thought that someone had done him harm.
Maybe they did. Being ejected from a comfortable place like the womb after nine months can not be too much fun. During womb time the baby is constantly with his mother, tucked away in a nice warm place. All of a sudden he is in a cold bright room being poked and passed around by aliens.