Bleak and lonely are the abandoned relics of the past. Where has all the laughter gone?

The last building standing in Huhzah, Missouri
The last building standing in Huhzah, Missouri

The hills are old.  Some of the towns are old, too.  The old towns seem to have lost their identities, their purpose.  Most of them are stark reminders of hard times, lost farms, foreclosed business establishments.

I will not name the towns, because they have been hurt enough.  Some of them seem to have no names.  There are no signs of welcome, none which state the population numbers.  They are just oold towns that once teemed with life and now are all but abandoned.

There are churches in these towns, but they, too, look forlorn and abandoned.  There may be a lone gas station with its paint peeled off and its structure blemished with scars from high winds and dust, its pumps standing like relics from the past.

Farewell to Red Oak, Missouri
Farewell to Red Oak, Missouri

Some stores have windows blocked with plywood.  Others are gaunt with glass windows that reveal a deserted interior space littered with wood scraps and dust.  Most have no signs that say “For Rent” or “For Lease.”  They are just empty abandoned stores that will never be resurrected.  They are ghost stores and a reminder of a hopeful yesterday with the smell of fresh paint and new furniture proclaimed “Open for Business.”

Now, these towns are ones that even Woody Guthrie would have passed by.  He never would have pulled his guitar strap off his shoulder and composed a song about a dying town in Eden, where the green hills rise above the valleys and plains as majestic reminders of pristine beauty that looks down on commercial failures with wise and thoughtful disdain.

Outside of these bleak towns are further reminders of decay.  There are burned houses and barns, a house with weather-beaten boards turned grey and drab are crumbling into scrap heaps of shingles and siding.  Old tools have turned to rust and the broken down fences clog with dead plants blown there by the wind.  A tree strangled by mistletoe in its branches stands stark against a blue serene sky, the eternal gazing down on the tragically ephemeral.

The nameless towns will never recover.  The stores are beyond repair, the houses that died will rot back to the earth and leave no trace of their former existence.

I am filled with an immense sadness as I pass through these Ozarks towns.  An old man, hunched over with age and struggling with arthritis, walks along a cracked sidewalk without looking into the empty windows, the boarded up storefronts.  Where is he going?  Where has he been?  Is his memory so clouded that he cannot see his own reflection in the dusty windows?

Who comes to these churches with their lofty spires?  What do they say to each other as their town slowly dies, crumbles into ruin and desolation?

Do they know that the town is starving to death?

It seems as if time has passed by and now stands still at the foot of the rising hills, caught in some invisible event horizon where time and space slow to a standstill.

And, I am left with a feeling of emptiness and loss.  I have not lived in any of these towns, but I remember them from boyhood and can still hear the playful laughter of children, the lyrical chatter of women as they shop for dresses, shoes and food in stores that teemed with life and activity.

Now, the cracked streets are empty, the children absent, the women locked in their homes with only memories and the artifacts of their lives gathering dust on the mantelpiece or in a dingy storeroom.

And, in the air, the cloying scent of decay and decomposition that wafts along the streets of their bleak and joyless town.

HillsOfEden-3dLeftJory Sherman is author of Hills of Eden. Please click the book cover to read more about Jory Sherman’s books on Amazon.


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