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The call came out of nowhere. More specifically....
"Sidney, New York. You're on with Larry King."
"Larry, I have a question for Steve Wulf. Does he keep in touch with anyone from Norwich?"
"I know the Purple Tornado won the state basketball championship last year," I said.
"Then you'll be interested to know the football team might win the state championship this year."
Before I had a chance to find out more about the team or the caller, and before a large chunk of the radio audience started station-surfing, Larry cut us off. This—The Larry King Show, Oct. 15, 1993—was supposed to be an hour on the upcoming World Series, after all. There were precious few people out there who knew or cared what Sidney, New York, and I were talking about.
What we were talking about was my first love.
Exactly 20 years before, I had left Norwich, N.Y. (pop. 8,800), in my powder-blue '68 Chevy Malibu to continue my way in the world of journalism. After 15 months as a—no—the sportswriter for The Evening Sun (circulation 5,500), it was time to move on to my second job. I didn't have much in the way of worldly possessions, not on the wages the paper paid me. But that short time in that small town provided me with a decade of memories and a megalopolis of friendships. I drove out of Chenango County with remembrances of the Purple Tornado and the Bluebird, Tom Schwan and Tom McMahon and Tom Rowe, the People's Softball League and noontime basketball games at the Y, Rocky Nuzzolese and Norm Kaufman, the long wintry nights when I had to write 12 separate basketball stories and the glorious fall afternoons covering eight-man football in South New Berlin. I would particularly miss that block of North Broad Street in Norwich where, walking south, you could find food and talk at the Bluebird, drink and talk at the Norwich Grille, the New York City papers and talk at the Smoke Shop and, upon turning the corner, the magnificence of the Chenango County courthouse.
You know the town Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life? That was Norwich as I remembered it, a place from a simpler, warmer time, a place where being a neighbor meant something. (For me, it also meant having to share a party line with four other homes.) Not many outsiders knew where Norwich was. Norwich, Connecticut, they would ask, or Norwich, Vermont? No, Norwich, New York, 35 miles northeast of Binghamton, 45 miles southwest of Utica, smack-dab in the middle of the state, or, in other words, nowhere. That was part of its charm, actually. Norwich was a secret place, like Shangri-la.
When I left, the town was thriving. Chenango County had a remarkable panoply of industries: Norwich Pharmacal, makers of Pepto-Bismol and Unguentine; Norwich Mills, makers of Champion sporting attire; Norwich Shoe; GLA, makers of precision instruments for the space program; Victory Supermarkets, with headquarters in Norwich; and the Borden Company down in Bainbridge, hometown of the inventor of condensed milk, Gail Borden.