Dear Mark Twain,
You don’t know me — how could you? You’ve been dead for over a century, yet we have walked the same streets, explored the same river paths, and I’ve visited the site of your friend’s vacation home. It’s now a shopping center that hosts the best slice of pizza in the Southern Tier, but you don’t know that either.
Elmira, the place you once referred to as “the quietest of all quiet places,” has changed since you left. The river paths are overgrown, your beloved study is transplanted onto the campus of self-righteous liberal arts students, and the quietest of all quiet places has turned noisy.
Elmira — geographically speaking — is still the place where you traveled to find your one true love; it’s the place where your children spent summers chasing fireflies and is eternally split between the river where you penned “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”. The trees still sway politely in rhythm with the breeze and the woods provide a solemn venue for thinking.
What you don’t know is that Elmira is my place, too. It’s the place where I watched my brothers play Huck Finn little league, the town where I chased misadventure and caused trouble, and laying in the tall grass by the river is where I fell in love with words. Although much has changed since you left, Elmira is still a place full of whimsy and artistry for those willing to take a deeper look. I worry that if, by magic or fate, you were ever to return to Elmira you would be ashamed of what it has become. The buildings are in need of repair. The once proud and colorful Victorians have been turned into nursing homes, and the citizens have long ago lost their pride in this place.
Even though it’s not the as you remember, Elmira can still offer inspiration to a lucky few. It hides in the trees by the river, in the mansions that survived the flood, and in the souls that appreciate a spectacular story — perhaps a story about a boy and his adventures on a river that split the country in twain.
Even though you don’t know me, Mr. Clemens, I know you. To some you are remembered as Mark Twain, others Samuel Clemens, to most you are simply a literature legend. To me, you are a fellow Elmirian who spent his summers writing by the river shore.