Elaine Held grew up in South Dakota before her family moved to California when she was sixteen years old. The disappearance of family farms and small towns has changed the landscape in the Midwest, and Elaine shares the grief she felt during a visit to her childhood home. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns Sorrowfully, I stand amid empty buildings – a house caving in on the middle, an empty barn needing stock. Everything is leaning, cracking, peeling, smashed, rotting, and empty. The leavings of the out-buildings hide among the overgrown grass.
I enter the house of a past friend to find unpainted walls, broken furniture, and empty open cupboards. Birthday cards received years ago are strewn about. Children’s rooms I had played in as a child stand empty, wall paper hanging grotesquely. A marble rolls across the room as I step on wet paper that was part of a Sears catalog. As I stand grieving among the ruins, I remember when the sounds of life throbbed, but now the prairie winds shake the emptiness.
I walk out into the wheat field, slowly turning in a 360-degree circle, trying to gather in the faint sounds of the past. That would be Carl Peterson driving his tractor along the edge of his corn field. I remember Joe Stacey because he was the last man to use horses to work his fields.
At the Brook’s farm there would be many farmers who gathered to organize the fall harvest or the spring planting or the spraying of plants that are pests. But now trilling songs of birds draw me back to the present.
I walk toward Main Street which was one block long. In the past it housed a general store, post office, saloon, meeting hall, machine shop, and at the end, a granary. Now all that is there is a temporary building that covers all needs.
The last person still living in Farmer, South Dakota, is fighting the present. Tomorrow the county comes to get him and put him in an old folk’s home. They will burn his house, filling in the basement and planting grass over it, as if they can’t wait to bury his history.
Two proud churches had served this small town. They were the center of living for the families here. All entertainment, social gatherings and worship went through them. I look at the grass that spreads over their former foundations and listen to the echoes of the past through eyes that don’t wish to see the present.
I prefer the attitudes, work ethics, love, family, respect, and honor of the past. It is hard to listen to young people tell me that my country isn’t important, only the planet Earth, so therefore I must sacrifice history and patriotism. What would the people who lived in this town think if they could hear such ideas?
As I try to gather the courage to leave I look at the strange sight before me - fields lush with crops, but no buildings or people to suggest life. No families, just corporations. Big business. Big money. It is not just a house that is empty. It is a way of life that is missing and dies with me. I am the last of a generation that remembers, and now I must stand here and say goodbye to my personal ghosts.
Published: May 1, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 03