night spots all but drowned out the thunder of the organ of Trinit}-rnChurch and the voices of the traditional past.”rnThe city prospered, became meretricious. Rouged andrnslinky, she had a fat purse for several years: Sampson madernGeneva a Goliath. But Uncle Sam tired of this particularrnwhore, and in 1956 he moved on. Geneva never quite recovered,rnthough today Primrose and Candida’s house is only anrnarthritic jog from Wal-Mart.rnThe Misses Elliot of Geneva was praised by Stephen VincentrnBenet, who saw in the haughty old maids “a certain kind of individualisticrnAmerican small-city society, independent, crotchet)’,rnbrisk and always speaking its mind.” The sisters, wrote Mr.rnSmith, “felt that the United States of America was, in a spiritualrnsense, almost their own property, just as they felt that Geneva almostrnbelonged to them.” This is the proprietary patriotism thatrnone finds in Edmund Wilson and Gore Vidal, for instance, orrnin those “love-cracked” New England spinsters whose campaignsrnin the 1950’s to save the tall oak tree from the highwaywidenersrnor to preserve the home of their town’s third-rate poetrnearned condescending, faintly sneering, notice from Life magazine.rn(Wlien was the last time an American high school wasrnnamed for a poet? Can you imagine the citizens of Centervillerndedicating Adrienne Rich High?)rnMr. Smith was what once was known as a confirmed bachelor.rnHe did not use a computer. He did not watch Friends; hernhad friends. Until the end, he painted everv’ Sunday—the hillsrnand grapy vales of his Finger Lakes. (Shortly before his death,rnhe sent me a photograph of himself, bespectacled. In his oldman’srnscratch, he scrawled, “I don’t need glasses, except whenrnout sketching landscapes.”)rnImet Warren Hunting Smith when he was 86 years old: Hernwas the only person I’d ever known whose favorite novelistrnwas Louis Auchincloss. In the abstract, I was an anti-Smith, forrnI am a leveller who has always regarded the old families as effeternand useless, producing their withered lines of druggie sons andrnwan daughters, breeding like incestuous dogs and braggingrnabout their thieving ancestors on the wedding page of the NewrnYork Times. (“Wlien people put a lot on what their folks used torndo, it always means they haven’t got gimp enough left to do anythingrnthemselves,” as Grandiua Savage says in Booth Tarkington’srnThe Midlander.)rnMy grandfather Baker was a handyman on the estate of thernWoodwards, self-styled aristocrats of our county — old manrnWoodward, a patent-medicine salesman, paid a penniless localrninventor $450 for the formula to what became ]ell-0. The paternalisticrnWoodwards paid for my mother’s birth, for which Irnam grateful, but I never could figure out how one could growrnsnooty over a fortune based on those inedible jigglers for sale inrnhospital cafeterias. Then again, I’m told tiiat the most insufferablyrnpompous member of the House of Representatives is WisconsinrnRep. James Sensenbrcnner, heir to the Kotex fortune.rnThe ways of superciliousness are mysterious.rnMy Sicilian great-uncle toiled for the Wadsworths, landrnbarons of Western New York, a.k.a. the ones who stole all thisrnland from the Indians. Old luan Wadsworth once fired a hiredrnhand for having the audacity to purchase a Model-T; when hisrnniece reproved him, he called her “a goddamn Bolshevik.”rnThe purpose of this dancing on the limbs of the family tree is tornsay that my sympathies are and always have been with the blackrnscullion hidden in the kitchen and spitting in the soup.rnYet I have learned that the old families are essential to Benet’srn”individualistic American small-city societ).” Given that Moneyrncalls the shots in this covmtry, their place has been taken notrnby honest workmen or staunch merchants but by absenteeownedrnmegastores whose names are never found on the list ofrnsponsors of the historical societ)’, the hospital guild, the friendsrnof the library, the concert band, the minor-league baseballrnteam, or the community groups that give a place its accent. Inrnmost such cities today, all that remains of the old industrialistsrnare .. . their remains.rnIndividualistic Warren Hunting Smiths are produced byrnlong years of residence in one place. They are not minted inrncolleges, for as the Kansan Wes Jackson writes, schools offerrn”only one major: upward mobility.” Or outward mobility.rnLeave-taking. (Of the school his uncle endowed, WarrenrnHunting Smith said, “The people of the college have no interestrnin civic affairs.”)rnThe departure of Smiths may set in motion a series of eventsrnthat ends in collapse, as ruderal Wal-Marts sprout like poisonrnmushrooms in the ruins. In my own small city, Batavia, NewrnYork, the sons and daughters of what we might call the BoothrnTarkington class left, en masse, after World War II, often takingrnup residence in soulless suburbs far from the city whose storesrnand factories bore their family names. So that political powerrnwould not devolve to the workers in those factories, the Republicanrnmiddle-class abolished the mayoralt)’ and foisted upon usrna city-manager system, which for 40 years has imported credentialedrntransients who oversaw a Dresden-like urban renewalrnprogram that devastated the cit)’ and dispirited the citizens. Butrnat least we were saved from a Polack machinist or Dago baker asrnmayor.rnToday, when the middle-class deserters who abandoned shiprnreturn for a look-see, stooped and graying, their own childrenrnand grandchildren further scattered, without any mooring sturdierrnthan a telephone cord, they walk our barren Main Streetrnand mutter about how our shabby town has lost all its characterrn(I thought adversity built character) and how we have gone tornhell. Yes, and whose fault is that, Mr. Assistant Vice President?rnI hope you like your $400,000 house in Littleton.rnWarren Hunting Smith understood that his old maids werernindividualistic instead of merely queer because they had not therncurse of wealth. Genteel povert)’ kept the sisters at home, “rootedrnto tiieir native soil when other people are losing their localrnflavor abroad.” It is all very easy for tiie rootiess to strike theirrnposes of “individualism” in distant cities, where the mass of selfproclaimedrnindividualists exhibit all the diversity of a conventionrnof performance artists. Only an anonymous person has torn”make a name for himself,” but that name is written in disappearingrnink.rnAs a pictiire needs background, so does a person, at least ifrnshe wishes to be something beyond merely queer. For instance,rnthe lector in a small Catholic church nearby is a lesbian sornbutch she makes Janet Reno look like Donna Reed. Yet becausernshe is native, and the people in the congregation havernseen her grow up, have lived with her through funerals andrnsnowstorms and baseball games, she is accepted as a full and irreplaceablernpart of the community. Were she an outsider, shernand her girlfriend would draw disapproving stares. Tough. Immobilityrnshould have its privileges, too.rnIn An Elegant But Salubrious Village, Mr. Smith concluded,rn”F.ven the obscurest Genevans are somehow distinguished, andrnknow how to live like individuals and not like a flock of sheep.”rnDo we? trn14/CHRONICLESrnrnrn