Remembering the Brilliant of 1968

We all look at the past through a distorted prism. We tend to see our past in a more favorable light than was probably reality.

With that said, during a recent trip to Brilliant, my hometown, I couldn’t help but compare the Brilliant of today with the Brilliant of my childhood. Brilliant and the rest of the Ohio Valley have suffered mightily since 1974, the year I graduated high school. I am grateful for living there in a time when it was great to be a kid in Brilliant.

Brilliant High School played its football games on Saturday afternoons. On game-day Saturday mornings my dad would put large two speakers on the roof of the house and blast out fight songs. He had mom make a school flag that would hang from the second floor of our house to the yard. Nearly everyone in town went to the games. You could smell the popcorn and hot dogs before you got to the stadium. The sound of the band reverberated off the surrounding hills and all these decades later I get goose bumps remembering the strains of the Victory March. As a kid, there was nothing in the world I wanted as badly as I wanted to be a Brilliant Blue Devil and run from the locker room to the field through the tunnel created by the band and fans.

Every summer there was the Fireman’s Street Fair. Market Street was shut down and for four nights there were rides, bingo, games, and tons of junk that your parents did not want you eating. (Teenage girls were generally banned from being anywhere near the grease-stained carnies who came to town in advance of the fair to set up the rides. They were an unusual bunch and I remember several heading to the boat club with soap and a towel to take a bath in the Ohio River. Given the condition of the river in those days, I’d wager they exited dirtier than they entered.)

In a town of about 1,600, we had: an appliance store, an American Legion post that sponsored fish fries every Friday, diners – The Coffee Pot and Bolen’s (Brilliant was short on restaurants because it was dry), five gas stations (Including Yocum ‘s Sohio), a drug store, lumber yard, hardware store, two barbers, several beauty salons, three grocery stores – M&K, Kennedy’s and Brindley’s, several other places where you could buy bread and milk, including Joe LaRocka’s Shoe Hospital, two doctors, a coin laundry, five churches – Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Nazarene and Catholic, the Shake Shack, Matthews Chevrolet, a florist, and a Little League that supported four minor and four major league teams.

It was a great place to grow up and I miss it. Was it as wonderful as I remember? Probably not, but I am certainly glad I grew up there in 1968 and not 2011.

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