Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Little Story

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There once was a small Texas country town we'll call "Germania" for simplicity.

Nearly all the citizens of Germania could trace their family roots to the same European locale and cultural history. Three religions thrived in Germania: Lutheran, Catholic and Protestant, though the Lutheran church boasted the largest congregation.

Germanians knew the value of neighborliness and friendliness and found many ways in which to celebrate these values. Friendships were known to span generations; knowing you could depend on the loyalty of a neighbor and a friend was absolute.

Mr. Brown ran the local grocery store, while the Nilsson's hardware store had been a Main Street fixture forever and ol' Willie Munsch could always be counted on to keep your tractor or your car finely tuned and humming. The continuity of community in Germania was a given; looking out for your neighbor was an unwritten code in the city charter. If a farmer's crops didn't make in a season and the family was short on cash, the local merchants could carry them a while on their books, knowing that as soon as money was flowing again, the debt would be quickly paid. No interest, no credit bureau reporting, just a man's word and a handshake the only requirements.

Days passed in organized calendar fashion; the Christmas pageants, the celebrations of Independence, Veterans, and Memorial days - all had their special communal rituals that anchored the families and preserved their common history.

One day a new super store went up in a nearby neighboring city - one a little larger and younger than Germania. Prices were cheap (as was the quality of the offered goods, though most shoppers were willing to overlook much in the name of a bargain).

Folks from Germania began to fall prey to the lure of the super store glitz and less and less sales were made in the local shops. Who wanted toothpaste choices limited to only two brands?

One by one the local merchants in Germania closed their doors, unable to compete with all those bright yellow smiley-faced goods and wide white aisles. The grand old buildings along Main Street fell into disrepair, city tax coffers collected dust instead of coins. Young people couldn't make a living and began the exodus to bright lights and glamorous jobs.

Nothing remains the same forever.

A few old-timers still live in Germania and new retirees with lots of discretionary income are finding the vacant old homes perfect for remodeling, the craftsmanship and construction unmatched in today's fast and cheap housing. Like an anemic Phoenix, Germania may rise to a tiny re-birth, but it's only an illusion of the old way of living.

The neighboring city has grown and fast-food has pushed out the small family-owned cafes. No one calls you by name, no one cares. Food stamps are the only escape from down-on-your-luck empty pantries; old Mr. Brown has long been buried in the small hilltop Lutheran cemetery.

Small town America once practiced a certain kind of socialism, though no one ever called it that or probably even saw it as such. It was the best kind of socialism - steeped in community values and inter-dependence. Merchants extended credit when it was needed, they bought their goods locally where available. Citizens patronizing local stores resulted in a circle of commerce that was dependable and prosperous.

Makes me melancholy to drive through these old Texas towns and see the decline in a lifestyle that wasn't perfect, but was surely more nurturing and sustaining than the fast anonymous cities we inhabit today.

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bill / prairie point said...

This is the story of the town where I live. A couple things may be out of order in the chronology; for instance, young people started leaving for better pastures long before the merchants started closing their doors. The inability to make a living in rural areas may be the real villain in the story. And good roads and cheap gas made it easy to drive to the big store in the next town.

Kay Dennison said...

There's lots of that here, too, and its so sad. The Evil Empire has killed small town America and I really don't think that was old Sam's intent. His greedy heirs, however, don't give a damn.

la peregrina said...

This slowly happening to my small town

joared said...

So much of the "old" is lost with the advent of the "new." Why does it often seem to be some of the values we most cherish and hold so dear?

Wonderfully told story though oh, so sad, Pattie!

Anonymous said...

It's been some time since I left a comment. But, sicne you're celebrating the past, I thought you might want to chek this link to the FW Star Telegram.

A madam of a bawdy house in Hell's Half Acre has a haedstone at last.


tracy said...

I love this photo Pattie...
Reminds me of the many old memories from back home in the coalfields. Memories...just sitting there on the sides of roads, as folks keep passing by.

ml said...

There's a well-established movement to take back the small town, and it takes organizing against the big-box stores coming in, like Walmart. It involves volunteering for zoning-boards in our communities, zoning against chain-stores, and establishing protective zones for mom-and-pop businesses. Author Stacey Mitchell has a new book out by Beacon Press called "Big Box Fraud" or something like that tells us how to do it; this kind of change is not inevitable. We can preserve our small towns.