Our village, small as it is, did not develop any handful of ethnic “quarters”. One hears of French Quarters, Spanish Quarters and Latin Quarters in larger cities, with “enclave” seeming the more common term for Irish and Scottish neighborhoods, implying, to me at least, a discriminatory and defensive attitude from within, quite opposite the image formed by the assignation of “ghetto”. Our little Sherburne, in my youth and to my knowledge, had but one Quarter, quite distinguished by its poverty and homeliness, and populated with assorted Lebanese, Italian, Irish, and Polish families. A checkerboard of enclaves, some the size of single lots, others amalgams of the properties of like descended folk, or those like minded but of different background. It was known by all as “The Quarter”, and at it’s center was the largest building in town, the still enduring Knitting Mill.
I grew up, like my father, on the southern edge of The Quarter, which in his day was fairly separated from the “downtown” by a swamp, reduced by fill and building in my youth, but still a “forest” of perhaps 10 acres, quite enough for boys to disappear into with shovels, BB guns, machetes, slingshots, rope, hammers, nails and lumber, matches, and containers of whatever highly flammable liquid we could procure. In groups of two or three or four, we set out on a daily basis to enlarge our knowledge of construction, learning first those wilderness prerequisites: killing, starting fires, and felling trees.
The Quarter to the North had access to both streets and fields, but nothing, to my mind, rivaling our forest/swamp. We all had access to “the hill” off to the East, but that was more the playground of the northern Quarter boys, and stories of their BB gun wars left us incredulous. They used their weaponry on one another, not, as seemed more natural to us, for killing birds and shooting holes in Mrs. Power’s hanging laundry. The boys up north on School and New Streets seemed a hardened bunch, well documented fist fighters, and what little bullying we sought to practice we took farther South, into the softer part of town.