I have two parallel thoughts for today. I want to talk about each and then try to pull them together.
Thought Number One
When I was a kid, my parents allowed me to wander the streets of Oakland, California on foot and by bus. Things were pretty safe and I never thought twice about being and going anywhere. There was a local clothing store on East 14th Street. It was part of a shopping area that once was its own little suburb. Before World War Two, my father had been the manager of the Western Auto Store along that street and he knew all the shop keepers; the barber, the watchmaker, the guy who ran the war surplus store, the insurance salesman, the skating rink owner, and on and on. He also knew the people at the clothing store (its name lost in the mists of time). My parents had a charge account at the store and as a teen I got to charge stuff on their account. No credit cards yet. The salesman knew who I was and put it on the account.
Those were simpler and safer times. As Oakland changed over the years all those people died and the stores closed. New people and new stores are there along East 14th street. It’s not so safe as it was, stores have big steel bars on the windows and probably the credit cards are scrutinized carefully to insure they are not stolen.
I think that living in a rural community is one way those of us of a certain age return to those simpler times of a more trusting society where everyone knew your name.
Thought Number Two
My usual source for ideas, the Austin American Statesman, presented me with this article by Michael Young (Young, 2015) dealing with how rural communities are losing population and floundering to stay in business. In the article, Young points to whole counties in Texas that are losing population. Now Texas is a big place and growing rapidly in the major urban areas. On the other end of the scale, there are 14 counties (whole counties) that have fewer than 1,500 people living in them. If there were major businesses in these counties and towns – be they railroads, oil, coal, cattle, farming or manufacturing – now they have all moved on. Young said, “People don’t move to Foard County to find a good paying job.”
So why would someone move to Foard County, Texas?
Young suggests this: people move there because… “they live beneath a sky so filled with stars they seem uncountable. They know their neighbors. Their kids can be good friends with everyone in their class and maybe everyone in their school. And they remain what most of Texas once was.”
Merger of Thoughts
Rural places in Texas that are currently losing population preserve much of what made life good a half century ago in urban areas that now are growing rapidly and may no longer offer those values. A future exists for these empty communities as folks like me and my family return to rural areas to seek that quieter, friendlier life. We can do this because we do not need those steam-age industries that in earlier times were the sole sources of an income. I work on-line at my own work as do many others here (here being Wimberley, Texas). Still others work in service businesses (restaurants, hardware stores, grocery stores, etc.) where we take our trade. Small communities can continue to exist using new models for income but keeping that more trusting society where everyone knows your name.
As a side note: Not everything about rural life is nostalgic. I just watched the film “The Homesman” and it dealt with the awful privations and stresses that faced early settlers on America’s Great Plains in the 1850’s. In all things there is a perspective to keep.
- The Homesman (2014), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2398231
- Young, M. E. The other Texas the boom forgot: Rural counties struggle to stay afloat. Dallas News, July 17, 2015.
August 1, 2015