Tonawanda News

October 12, 2012

ADAMCZYK: The little treasures

By Ed Adamczyk
The Tonawanda News

— Artifacts.

Artifacts of one era or another. As a writer/historian I turn things like this over in my hands all the time. Farm implements. Old radios. Lace and dresses and hats long gone out of style.

Smiling faces in photographs taken at banquets of clubs and amateur sports leagues organized in Kenmore and Tonawanda factories during World War II. The Curtiss-Wright baseball and bowling teams.

In a way, these things are as valuable as the ability to churn butter or control a plow horse. In a less tangible way, they are like diamonds. You likely need not be reminded how fast the future becomes the past, and how little or how much items such as these mean. (There is currently a television commercial airing which involves checking the age of a car by searching for a cassette player in the dashboard — jeez, was it that long ago?).

The Town of Castile, near Letchworth State Park, recently lost a load of stuff like this in a fire in its municipal building. Government records and dealings were backed up, fortunately, but some of the little treasures emblematic of life out there are now ash.

It’s the city of Aleppo, in Syria, that’s on my mind these days, when I think about the Middle East. It’s got 2 million people, but fewer every day; its citizens are fast becoming refugees, escaping a messy government-vs.-rebels civil war.

I’ve never been there but it is considered by many to be the longest inhabited place on earth, going back to the sixth century B.C. (I always thought the record was held by nearby Damascus.) It was a crossroads, with Europeans meeting Indians and Asians to trade goods of one sort or another. People lived there but many more passed through, welcomed. It was the Chicago of the Middle East.

It’s now a war zone, and its history is being wrecked along with its infrastructure, its buildings and its reasons to be there.

All that exotica one associates with the area, the bathhouses, the architecture, the shops selling thick coffee, the warmth of the sun as you walk down the street, the mixing of races and faiths, the music and the minarets, are all being blown to pieces. Whether one gets a mental picture of a place like Aleppo from books, from visits or from Abbott and Costello movies, he or she gets the idea.

It must have been a lovely and exciting place, with back rooms full of souvenirs of the history of the oldest place on earth. These days, the heavily armed government and the increasingly armed opposition are slowly dismantling it, and with every indiscriminate blast goes another chunk of some incredible history.

Aleppo has bigger issues than preserving its history and watching looters run through the holes in the walls of its museums. The human-scale tragedy is worse. People are fleeing for the border; others are dying. Hospitals are understaffed, overworked and unattended (the doctors are leaving as well). Food and electricity are scarce. Still, another crime going on there is the dissolution of its heritage. 

Whatever is left will eventually turn up in other venues, auction houses, museums, private collections and the like. What bothers me is the material that is turning into gravel, the smashed, burned, carefully cultivated until recently legacy of what went on in that place. Plenty more will be bulldozed, eventually, and end up under the next wave of Aleppo’s pavement.

I approve of the idea that people are around to, at the least, care about the stuff that went before, the mementos of other eras. Not everyone should. Not every landfill needs to be a museum, but there are individuals who take it upon themselves to make certain handfuls of the past remain for those of the future to appreciate. Granted, I’m one of them, but it’s when I learn of a place like Aleppo, its history slowly lost in demolition disguised as revolution, that those people looking out at me from photographs of Kenmore schools and Tonawanda picnics seem actually to be demanding something of me, simply that they be remembered. 

Perhaps remembered only for being there, the moment the camera shutter clicked, but remembered.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.