Good fences make good neighbors

PDT Sports Report

September 17, 2012


PDT Staff Writer

Now in my 30’s, New Boston doesn’t always feel like the same place where I grew up. Little-by-little, the things that made the village special have gone away, as I suppose everything must, eventually. Little Nicks and the American Restaurant are both closed, and while it’s wonderful to stand in my backyard and see the beautiful (and much needed) new school nearly complete, my thoughts often drift back to my childhood and the many days I spent splashing at Sun and Funland Pool. It’s hard not to be a little cynical.

Over the last few years, on more than one occasion, I would stand next to my fence talking with my neighbor, Elwood Turner, about the passing of those good old days. I guess nothing good can last forever.

Elwood was the former fire chief in New Boston, and my father was a fireman. He also lived next door to my grandfather in the house where I now live. I would come over there as a child and find papaw and Elwood talking next to the fence – not knowing how much I too, one day, would come to enjoy those fence-side chats with “Chief”.

Several years ago, Elwood was presented with an honorary degree from New Boston High School, and I had the even greater honor of writing that story for the Portsmouth Daily Times. Even though I have known Chief my entire life, I sat in his living room that day as he told me his life’s story. How he dropped out of high school to go to work, and spent his entire life in service to the village. When he looked at the diploma he had just been given, he paused as his eyes teared up. He was so proud that day, and I felt so humbled to be in his presence to share that beautiful moment with him.

Over the last year or so, I would see Elwood — who by now was in his 80’s — outside less and less often. Whenever I did, he was riding along in his motorized chair and he still seemed to have more energy than I did most mornings. One morning just a few weeks ago I was getting ready for work, and as I walked through my dining room I caught a glimpse of Elwood out the window riding past on his chair back into his yard, and it made me feel so good to see him outside again.

But nothing good can last forever.

On Saturday, I was playing with my young son outside when I noticed the flag out front of Elwood’s house was flying at half-mast. His son-in-law, Dan, came to the fence where Elwood and I shared many stories, and delivered the sad news that he had passed away that morning.

Later that day, Dan took me into Elwood’s house to show me the letters of accomplishment – many of them signed by my own grandfather (former New Boston Mayor Charles Ottney) and former Speaker of the House Vern Riffe Jr. Next to them all was hanging Elwood’s old fire coat and hat, as if he could be called out at any moment.

It was a proud shrine not just to Elwood’s accomplishments, but to the accomplishments of the village of New Boston and the important role that he played shaping his community.

I will miss my friend. The fence will be lonely without him. But as I stand with my son in our backyard, looking at the village I used to know, I won’t just see all those things I have lost – I’ll see the village that was shaped by special people like Elwood Turner. They don’t come any better.

Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 235, or rottney@heartlandpublications.com.