Seymour, Connecticut – There Ain’t No Just Passin’ Through. By Gary Hays
Of all the places I have lived, of which there have been very many, there is one in particular that remains dearest to my heart. It isn’t Athens, Greece or Wiesbaden, Germany. It isn’t even Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, California, or Nashville, Tennessee. I could easily continue the list, but you get it.
In June 1970 at the strapping age of 18, I laced up a government issue pair of black leather combat boots and solemnly swore to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States of America. Leaving town on a bus, I watched the city limit sign of the place I claimed as my hometown, disappear for what I knew was probably forever. My family moved to Florida soon after I left home so there was nowhere for me to even go back to.
This military venture lasted a total of fourteen years, and because life will do what life will do, I never made it back to the Lower Naugatuck Valley, located in the third smallest state, Connecticut. At least not to live. “The Nutmeg State.” The “Constitution State.” The “Provisions State.” What’s in a name? All this aside, I can very proudly say my name remains engraved on a Viet-Nam memorial statue at the top of French Memorial Park in Seymour, so in an odd sort of way, I guess I am still there. My spirit remains.
There are four main municipalities in the “Valley”, as they call it, and most of those “they’s” are multi-generational so the “Valley” it is, and so shall it remain. They are Seymour, Ansonia, Derby, and Shelton. Other unincorporated towns include Oxford, Beacon Falls, and Naugatuck. As far as the history of the area, Google it. I’m not here to talk about that.
Here’s how it started. As a teenager, my family lived in Seymour on two separate occasions for a total of probably three years, give or take. Even though I attended three different High Schools in three different states, and am now 65-years-old, I remain an avid Seymour Wildcat at heart. As a military brat whose Dad continued to move around even after he retired, growing roots was never part of the plan. Having become accustomed to always being the new kid, I always dreaded the upcoming struggle with trying to fit into a whole different culture than where I had just left. Different styles, lingos, music, interests, and etc. Every place was always a little different from the last. But the kids in Seymour amazed me with the way they took me in as one of their own like they had known me all their lives. 99% of them started school together and still have the class photos to prove it. I know. I’m still in touch with some of them through the magic of technology and the generosity of Mark Zuckerberg. If you are from the Valley and have one of those photos, how about sharing it? If not here, try “The Open Window Shade” Facebook page.
I eventually made a few friends in the surrounding towns and learned it was not just a Seymour thing to be so accepting. It was a Valley thing. And it was good. Out of fairness to Shelton and Naugatuck, I never spent any time there so can’t attest to anything good or bad.
Being a gypsy of sorts has taught me an invaluable lesson. Never judge the desirability of an area based solely on the magnitude of its beauty. Judge it by its residents. After all, they’re the ones you’ll be living with and too many idiots can turn any place ugly. This is not to infer the Valley is not without its own radiant beauty. Au Contraire. It abounds. The best of both worlds.
Because I did a great majority of my “first-time-things” in Seymour, I often refer to it as the place where I grew up. The teenage years are very formative. Because of this, let’s take a closer look at Seymour through my eyes.
Despite the best pizza and Italian food a Spaghetti alle vongole craving taste-bud could ever behold, including in Italy where I have extensively traveled, expect to find the best Polish Golabki and Pierogies, anywhere. The two cultures are very strongly represented throughout the area. Getting used to the food was an easy adjustment to make. Pizza Hut? Forget about it.
Not everything changes. The inside of the Strand theater in downtown Seymour use to see a lot of me and my friends, and it’s still being used today.
Soon to celebrate its 52nd year, the Seymour Pumpkin Festival is an all-out event which has been known to attract upwards of 15,000 people. The first one was in 1966. The event hosts live music, vendors, carnival rides, a petting zoo, and much more. If you haven’t seen someone for awhile you can count on seeing them at the annual Pumpkin Festival. The entire town turns out, and then some. It’s a blast.
A local watering hole just down the road in Oxford, the Brookside Inn and Restaurant serves as a meeting spot for many locals from both Seymour and Oxford. It was at this very spot where I met up with a group of my former classmates a few years back.
The landscape of Seymour has somewhat changed since I lived there as a teenager. As is par for the course, some new came in and some old went out. My generation has now raised their own generation, and that generation is now raising yet another. But this can not change and has not changed the key ingredient that makes Seymour, and the Valley in general, a great place to hang one’s hat. The people.