RAY: I was born in the late fifties into the same small Kansas town where my mother and father grew up.
My grandparents all lived in that same town. Everyone was basically German, with a smattering of other northern European ethnicities thrown into the mix. The Main Street had everything anyone could possibly need to buy, from groceries to hardware. There were several Protestant churches that were always packed on Sundays, and one Catholic church on the edge of town, as well. There was no crime to speak of… we had one policeman, who spent most of his time bringing groceries to shut-ins. (He was a friend of my father’s, and my dad would joke about it.) We kids (and there were tons of us!) were outside from sun up to sun down, playing and fishing and riding bikes and building things. Every family had a garden out back, and sometimes a small orchard, and some folks raised a steer for winter beef, or kept chickens. That was in town! Every holiday was an opportunity for everyone in the family to get together and have some fun and good food. It was a warm, safe, sunny, idyllic way to grow up.
That all began to change in the seventies. People became much more materialistic, thanks in part to Mom taking a job outside the home and having all that extra cash. The new color television encouraged people to buy buy buy. Parents began divorcing and all my friends’ families disintegrated. People began staying inside from sun up to sun down. Where were all the kids? Inside, playing those new video games! The gardens went to weeds.The first black family moved into town. Hey, where’s my bike?
After college, I moved to another state for a job. When I returned home for a funeral last summer, I didn’t recognize the place. It was like that scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when George Bailey gets to see what his small town was like without him in it. The streets had all been widened, there were cars everywhere, and the town had become mile after mile of shopping and fast food joints. Main Street was dead and boarded up. There was a new GIGANTIC shopping Mall, though. It had been built on top of the land where my grandparents’ farm had been.
I sat at a table outside of one of the Mall’s restaurants, sipping a coffee and watching the people as they came and went. Most were fat, poorly dressed, and had a generally unhealthy appearance. They all looked so sad and stressed.
I thought of that YouTube video “Never Forget,” showing archival footage of daily life in a small town in South Dakota in 1938. A town filled with happy, healthy, well-dressed people. My home town used to be that way, too.
But now it is gone. The modern way of life is a curse, for sure.
DETER NATURALIST: We grew up in the same town, or nearby.
Your reference to Pottersville (It’s a Wonderful Life without George Bailey) is razor-sharp. My “home town” grew 800% since the mid-1960s and now looks like it’s the back-lot where every single TV commercial is now filmed. In my old neighborhood literally every eighth 1950’s vintage house has been torn down, replaced by a “mansion” whose walls extend to the utility easements.
I remember climbing a fire escape on a downtown building with Jr. HS classmates and watching a parade from the roof. Imagine trying that now.
I remember buying rocket engines and cannon fuse with cash at the downtown hobby store (rode there on my bike) at 11 or 12 years of age. Imagine trying that now. We launched rockets at an open field near a grade school and a college. No one bothered us. When I tried to launch rockets at a county-owned field with my kids 15 years ago we got hounded by a deputy sheriff.
When I was a kid my home town had TWO stoplights. When I moved out 30 years ago it took literally 45 minutes of stop-and-go to drive from a house on the south edge of town to the north edge of town on a Saturday morning. How many “new Americans” have joined us since then?
An ice age cometh.