Ghosts and Such

I live in the same small Iowa town that I grew up in. I haven’t always lived here; I spent some time away, which only sharpened my sensitivity to the changes in the town while I was away wandering. As the evening haze of summer or bite of winter closes in around 9:30 in the evening, I often find myself with the urge to wander the streets of town. The walks are deathly quiet, save Friday nights when the races at the fair grounds provide a very loud white noise.

As I leave my house and turn the corner toward the park, past the ancient oaks I run into them; The ghosts of the present. The ghosts of the present live in the grand house across from the brick middle school, and the old shed by the park. The ghosts are more haunted than haunting. They’re resigned to their fate and bear animosity towards no one.

Each ghost is a dead dream; a dream of what something in town could have been, should have been, once was.

Growing towns have a vitality. They are building. They are growing. They are moving towards something. As demographics and economics shift, people try to find that excitement again. The pinnacle of any town is the moment before the big break hits; the future is always grander in our dreams than reality. The future is our present with different toys and faces.

If you live in a town that doesn’t have growth to look forward to, all you can do is resist a slide into oblivion, or, occasionally, get lucky and have a boom, a new business moves into town and pushes back the curve, before oblivion beckons again.

But those stubborn enough to stay won’t acknowledge that they will never again have a glory day to look forward to. They form historical societies, trying to convince themselves that what they have built won’t go the way of the baseball diamond they grew up playing on. They grasp at the past are like kids you see at the fair with an unruly calf, desperately holding less and less of the lead as the calf takes off, convinced that they can stop the inevitable, and left in the end with only a bleeding, empty palm.

Deep down, the creators of the ghosts I see around town had to know that many of their plans would turn into ghosts. As Job says in The Good Book, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.”

The builders of the towns of the future are no different than the old men of the historical societies and genealogies. They just don’t yet realize that what they are creating will begin to die the moment it is created.