Welcome

The Moving Wall is a half-scale replica of Washington DC's Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Since 1984, The Moving Wall has toured the country, having installed itself for public viewing at over a thousand towns and cities. A conservative estimate would put the number of visitors in the millions. This blog is dedicated to getting behind The Moving Wall, to revealing how it was built, and what keeps it standing and rolling along.

On The Road With The Moving Wall

I have created a separate blog for this year's visitors to The Moving Wall. On it, they can directly post observations, impressions, reflections, etc. They can also post images. This new blog has the potential to be a great journal or travelogue of The Moving Wall in 2010. Please spread the word.

Here is the blog: http://rollingwiththemovingwall2010.blogspot.com/

I am also quite honored and pleased that Sharon Denitto has requested that her excellent site, Touch The Wall, be linked here. Please visit Touch The Wall, as Sharon's hard work offers a unique perspective on The Wall, and presents information not readily found elsewhere.
http://www.touchthewall.org

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Veterans' Benefits

Following a successful day of printing, and a successful evening of celebrating that successful day, we closed up shop around 9:00 or so and headed over to the American Legion Hall for pizza. As I stated in an earlier post, the American Legion is one of two public places to socialize in White Pine, the other being the bar at the Konteka. With a population of 250, that means in White Pine there is a watering hole for every 125 people. I don't know if that per capita figure is high or low by national standards, but the choice of two saloons seems rather limiting to city slicker me. On the flip side, with only two places to go, you're pretty much assured of a crowd at either one. 

We rolled up to the American Legion Hall, an indistinct white one-story building whose most notable feature was the full-sized military tank parked on its front lawn. If White Pine ever went to war with Silver City or Bergland, White Pine would kick ass.

John, Joy, and myself walked into the hall and while they were greeted with "Hi"s I encountered unsaid "Who's this guy?" and accompanying stares. Not hostile or anything. Just curious in the way a town of 250 people located in the middle of nowhere who likely don't see many passers through might be. I immediately closed rank behind John and Joy to affirm that I was with them.
Joy and I plopped ourselves on barstools while John went to shake somebody's hand. The bartender -- a friendly, middle-aged woman on the short side -- swung by with a Bud Light for Joy and a JsC (Jack splash Coke) for John. When asked what I'd like to drink and seeing none of the la-di-dah microbrews that both entice and confuse me back home, I asked for an Old Style.

Not bad. Could be worse.

Joy ordered up two or three pizzas, as we were expecting Aaron and Lisa and a couple other people from the shop to be joining us. The pizzas were pretty simple affairs. Prepackaged and frozen, they were slid (after the plastic wrap had been removed) into a teeny-weeny electric pizza oven (more like a big toaster flipped on its side) to cook until done, about 15 minutes.
I had been nibbling constantly while we were in the shop and so I wasn't as hungry as I might have been, but the sound of something more substantial than taco chips and dip did fire-up my appetite some. Now that I had some time to kill before the pies arrived, and my celebrity had kind of lost out to unfinished cigarettes, drinks, and conversation, I had a chance to snoop around a little. 

For as dull and indistinct as the hall is outside, it shines with craftsmanship, creativity, and civic pride on the inside.

I haven't been in a lot of American Legion Halls or VFW halls, but those I have been in have traded off a sense of dreariness with functionality: they were nothing to look at, but they worked. That is, they provided a welcome gathering place and served decent drinks at better than decent prices. White Pine's American Legion Hall, on the other hand, was bright, clean, and chock full of local chatchkas and memorabilia enough to fill the place with spirits even when no one was there. 

How to begin? First, we have to start with Jim, the quiet, shaggy master carpenter who stopped by the shop earlier that day to have a beer and observe the printing process. Jim, as I mentioned in my last post, mills his own wood, and as it turned out all the sparkling white pine boarding that made up the walls of the hall were turned by his hand. Beautiful, angled tongue-and-groove white pine.

The bar, shaped like a shepherd's staff imaginatively blends White Pine's military past with its industrial past. The length of the bar features patches, post-cards, and period photos of local of White Pine's service men and women (playing it safe here: I don't recall having seen a picture of a servicewoman) stare up from beneath a several inches thick layer of clear laminate.

Some were photos from World War II but most were from more recent conflicts. It surprised me that such a small town (even when it was big) had produced so many vets. Whatever its per capita rate for saloons may be, its per capita rate for townspeople who've served is surely off the charts. 

Sprinkled between the photos like chocolate shavings on a cake are shining copper slivers harkening back to White Pine's mining days. Maybe the bar and the young-ish faces looking up from it have become old hat to members of the hall, but I found the history locked in that laminate fascinating, and the simple idea of it brilliant. 

There are four finger bars,

constructed and decorated consistent with the main bar, what with photos and copper slivers, but each finger bar has its own theme. One is dedicated entirely to fixing in memory copper mining and the industry it brought to town. Aerial views of the mine, the refinery, etc. Another finger bar displays photos celebrating The Moving Wall's 25th year when it returned home to White Pine in July of 2009 and went on exhibition there.

(I forget what the other two finger bars concerned themselves with)

Of course, there are other ways to look than down, especially in this hall. If you look up, you will see a patchquilt of ceiling tiles,

each individually painted to honor a military unit, to bookmark one's tour of duty, or to remember a lost family member or comrade.

Much like one can spend a good bit of time moseying down the bar, poring over it like one big photo album, one can also walk around the open floor, head tilted back, reading the ceiling and learning a good bit about White Pine's military contributions, some of whom have gone heavenward.


***
The pizzas arrived,

and while I can't say they reminded me of pizza as I've grown up knowing pizza, they were hot, and cheesy, and generously offered by Joy. I certainly had my fill.

*** 

After this, my first full day in White Pine, I began to reflect upon what it might be like living there. To an outsider from densely populated Rhode Island, at first glance there doesn't seem to be much to do, nor many people to do it with. To an outsider, it looks, in a word, boring. 

But, outsiders never really see what insiders see, or live, and so I suspect that my initial impressions probably do not faithfully represent life in White Pine. Yes, they don't have a movie theater or a mall, no nearby arena or sports teams, but maybe White Piners don't need that. Maybe they find enough entertainment in the woods. I don't know. 

As for socializing, I wonder what it's like knowing that wherever you go -- of the two places to choose from (the Konteka and the American Legion Hall) -- you are going to know everybody there, and will have likely seen them the night before, and the night before that, on back to the beginning of time. On the one hand, that may produce a sense of social claustrophobia, as though you're cooped up with the same people day in and day out. And yet, I suspect there is another way to look at this rather small and tight circle: that because you do see the same people day in and day out, you form stronger bonds with them than you might among a larger pool of acquaintances, that you get to know them more intimately than you would in more transient communities. This is not to say that everyone loves everyone else in White Pine. I'm sure they don't. But I suspect that everyone knows everyone in White Pine far far better than, say, someone like me, who knows next to nothing about my townsfolk (even my neighbors), in Warren. 

My point: White Pine appears very still, very quiet, not much going on or holding it together. I suspect that a number of townspeople might agree with me. But as John is attempting to show in the shop, and as Jim and Kevin and all those whose faces peer up from the hall's bar or whose panels hang down from its ceiling, little White Pine can muster up some tank-sized pride.  

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