On the map, Middleton is shown as a small city in upstate N.Y., nestled between one of the foothills of the Adirondacks and the narrow Endicott River. Beautiful country for the most part; especially in the summer and fall, but there are times in the winter when one would consider living there above and beyond the call. It has one unusual aspect that new arrivals have to adjust to – its residents think of it, live in it and behave in it as if it were two cities – Lower Middleton and Upper Middleton.
This fictitious division could be attributed to both physical and economic factors. Lower Middleton is that part of the city that runs along both sides of the river, connected by a single steel truss, two lane, bridge and consists of the business district, the main street; which is part of State Road 52, the municipal hub, residential areas and all six of its churches. Everyone calls it, as is to be expected, the “downtown”. Originally it had been the site of a number of textile mills that used the river as their power source but the business woes of the 1920s caused all to close – their owners and managers fleeing to the big cities – and leaving behind only the remnants of what had been a “company town”.
Upper Middleton’s existence had developed when the city grew over a period of many years with new enterprises replacing the old and their owner’s families and progeny settling into homesteads along the slopes of the hills overlooking downtown.
The city now has separate grade schools and high schools with Middleton High which is downtown and Rowley High in Upper Middleton. There is also one middle school rather conveniently located between the imaginary borders. The local kids can attend any school they wish although the majority understandably choose the nearest to their homes. The municipal country club is in the flats along the river north of town while the its golf course flows around and between the hills. All the fast food restaurants are in Lower Middleton although they also have some fine restaurants and supper clubs, especially those located at river’s edge. In Upper Middleton, there are a few high-end restaurants. However, a competing Bob Evans and Perkins have managed to get themselves located there.
All in all, everyone in Middleton got along reasonably well but there developed and remained, over the years, that subtle, unspoken divide. That isn’t to say one couldn’t move from Lower to Upper if one’s economic position allowed it or that the reverse could happen if one fell on hard times – under those circumstances, you could be accepted where you then were. However, a barrier between the two existed for social connections, the one most frequently encountered being marriage.
Doug Warton, principally to satisfy the wish of his mother, had attended Rowley High which was in Upper Middleton, although he lived in Lower Middleton. The school had gotten its name because old man Rowley had donated its library and gym. It was rare for a kid from Lower to attend a school in Upper but Doug had managed to get along with his peers very well because he was such a likable kid taking part in a number of sports and graduating near the top of his class.
It was while he was in high school that Doug became enamored of Vivian Carlton who was in the same grade that he was in. Unfortunately, by all indications, his feelings toward her were not returned. The destiny of Vivid Vivian, as she was dubbed by her friends, was under the tight control of her mother. Her father was one of the wealthier residents in Upper Middleton with a nouveau wealth garnered as a lobbyist for a huge financial institution. But he was an O.K. guy; never one to put on airs, while her mother, on the other hand ….!
Like most residents of Middleton Doug was aware of the social divide that existed in his hometown and accepted the fact that Vivian was out of his reach. That didn’t stop him from admiring her every chance he got but he never had enough nerve to ask her for a date. Vivian, on the other hand, was not unaware of his interest which she kept hidden knowing her mother would have a fit if she did otherwise.
When Doug graduated from high school, at the top of his class, he enlisted in the army and served in Afghanistan. After three years of service, he was wounded and returned home. Although his wounds were not serious they left him with a slight limp. Following his honorable release from service, he used his G.I. Bill benefits to spend two years at a nearby community college and then two more at the state university and graduated sigma cum laude with a B.A. in English and minors in Psychology and History. With the proceeds from the small estate left to him by his parents, who had both died in the meantime, he was able to attend his state’s university law school. He past his bar exam immediately thereafter and joined a small law firm in downtown Middleton where he initially spent most of his time defending the dregs of society who had run afoul of the law. Much of his work was pro bono
Vivian’s life took a similar course. She went from high school to Bryn Mawr and from there to Harvard Law School, She also passed her state bar exam on the first try albeit a year earlier than Doug because of the extra time he’d spent in the service. Her scholastic record was also superior and she was hired, immediately after that, by the county, as an ADA – assistant district attorney. During her school years, there were occasions when she and Doug found themselves at the same social functions and she would again notice him as a handsome young man with a pleasant personality who disappointed her by obviously ignoring her while she would have liked to be asked out on a date. By now she was no longer afraid of ignoring her mother’s narrowmindedness toward the inhabitants of Lower Middleton. Unfortunately, fate and both their natural abilities had put Doug and Vivian on the same path – but as opponents. Now there were many occasions where they had to fight each other tooth and nail, as part of their daily work. Individually they admired each other but neither could find a way to arrange for more pleasant meetings
Things didn’t improve when both Doug and Vivian’s mother decided to get pets at the same time. Doug’s pet was a German shepherd named Thor who had served in the Army for two years and had been offered for adoption after a short period of retraining and adjustment to non-Army life. Doug had always admired the service dogs he had seen in action during his own time in service. He was surprised to discover that not only was he expertly trained but he also had a happy-go-lucky demeanor and they quickly became the best of friends.
Vivian’s mother had adopted a Persian cat. Named Princess, she was coddled and spoiled by her owner causing her to become snooty and aloof. One early summer day Thor and Princess met and the result was not good. Vivian had taken Princess on a leash to the Riverwalk maintained by the city where it ran through the downtown area. The walk, well-kept for pedestrians with trees, flowering bushes, and many oak benches, ran for about a half mile and under the bridge to a point where the river was filled with boulders and two small falls. Doug had frequently taken Thor for the same walk and both had become rather well know. Although Doug carried a leash with him he never needed it because Thor obeyed all orders he had been taught.
It was a sunny and warm day as they neared each other and stopped to exchange greetings. Princess was in back of Vivian looking past her legs while Thor started to move forward to better examine that little thing hiding behind Vivian.
Doug said “Sit” and Thor did so immediately looking up at him as if saying “Hey, can’t I sniff that little critter?”
Suddenly Princess slid passed Vivian’s leg and leaped toward Thor with a loud “Hiss” while raking one paw with claws outstretched across his nose.
Thor crouched, ready to leap, but Doug said “Stay” and he dropped back on his haunches and froze as Princess slunk back behind Vivian.
Unfortunately, the conversation that followed was not the friendliest with Vivian complaining that Doug should keep that big hound on a leash and Doug countering with her lack of control over the cat. They parted company and went in different ways with both feeling unhappy.
It was only a few days later that they again met on the Riverwalk. This day it was also sunny but a little windy. Doug noticed that Vivian, walking toward him, again had Princess on a leash. Before they had an opportunity to talk to each other, Princess, who had been lagging behind, saw Thor walking next to Doug and suddenly gave a leap to the side almost causing Vivian to fall. Vivian let go of the leash and Princess raced away heading directly for the river. The river was running high and fast because of the spring runoff and Vivian shouted for her to stop. Princess turned her head and didn’t notice she had run off the pavement onto the wet and slippery grass at the river’s edge. As they watched in horror Princess slid over the edge and disappeared into the roiling water.
For a second the three of them – Doug, Vivian, and Thor stood frozen. Then Thor looked up at Doug. As their eyes met Doug said, “Fetch”. Thor spun around and with a mighty jump also disappeared into the water. When he surfaced he started swimming after Princess. Doug and Vivian both began running along the river’s edge to keep them in sight while a number of other people on the walkway joined them. A short distance down river were two small falls, each only a couple of feet high, but beneath them lay many large rocks and boulders where the water was especially rough. Thor had not been able to reach Princess as she neared the falls while she was desperately trying to keep her head above water but he had managed to grip her leash that was dragging in back of with his teeth and began swimming upstream pulling her with him. Doug could see that Thor was having trouble making it back and with no further hesitation tore his jacket off and jumped into the river.
As everyone watched from shore, Doug caught up with Thor and, grabbing his collar, helped him with his strong side stroke to slowly but surely work their way back to the river’s edge where a small mob formed a human chain to pull the trio out of the river.
It was only one weekend later, on a sunnier and warmer day, and after paper headlines and TV reports of the happenings on the river, that the people on the Riverwalk witnessed two almost unbelievable sights – Doug Warton and Vivian Carlton strolling hand-in-hand as they approached the bench on which Mrs. Carlton was sitting waiting for them. At her feet were Thor and Princes lying side by side and on her face was a rarely seen large smile.