If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to grow up in New Buffalo over a half century ago, Joseph Pluta has a book for you. “The Best Six Years of Any Life” was originally intended as a memoir for Pluta to pass on to his children and grandchildren.
“This was originally conceived as a tribute to my mother who died when I was six years old”, Pluta said. “That’s why the book is based on those first six years. To me, although I don’t have anything to complain about, the best 6 years of life were the first 6.”
Although Pluta remembers his childhood on a farm just outside of town in the late 1940s and early 1950s as basic, he calls it a tale of someone growing up in “good conditions”.
“It’s a story of what it was like living on this small farm as an only child”, he said. “It’s about the love my parents gave me, the first friends I made, and some of our eccentric neighbors.”
Pluta, now a professor of economics at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, has been researching the book’s topic over the last 20 years, speaking to older family members about the details. It turns out the more research he did, the more he remembered growing up during that time.
“The more I started digging through things, the more I began to recall,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing to see old pictures, family movies, and other old things that bring back alot of different memories.”
The old farm house where Pluta lived as a child is still standing, near Wilson and LaPorte roads.
“When they built I-94, it went right through our living room,” Pluta remembered.
A ton of other memories are included in the book, including Pluta working one of his first jobs at the drug store that is now New Buffalo Pharmacy.
When the book was finally complete and published two months ago, Pluta had time to reflect on the whole process.
“I learned how fortunate I was to grow up in New Buffalo,” he said. “You don’t often appreciate that when you are a child or an adolescent. But there were many advantages to growing up there. It was a nice friendly community, you knew everybody and everybody knew you.”
Pluta lived in New Buffalo until he graduated from the University of Notre Dame at the age of 20. He then moved to Austin to receive his doctorate, and has lived in the town since 1977 with his wife, Margo. They have two adult children that also reside in Austin.
He has come back to visit his hometown with his wife and children three of the last four summers.
“We’ve noticed some of the ways the town has changed,” he said. “It’s building. As a teenager I thought there wasn’t enough to do there, but it is booming a lot more today than it was in the 1950s.”
Pluta’s wife and children, all from a much larger town in Texas, are also impressed with the current New Buffalo.
“They all think it is very charming,” Pluta said. “When I first took them there I just said this is the little town that I grew up in. But they thought it was beautiful and the beach was spectacular. It’s really taken on a new life in recent years.”
The more he got into writing the book, the more Pluta said he thought “someone may be willing to publish it.”
The company that did publish it is Friesen Press, which has made the book available for purchase online at friesenpress.com. The cost, if ordered on the publisher’s Website, is $9.95.
It can also be found at amazon.com or at various local bookstores.
Friesen Press also recently published “Small Town Michigan Tales: A Collection of Short Stories,” one of 15 other books Pluta has authored.
by Tim Moran
Harbor Country News
New Buffalo, Michigan
March 18, 2011