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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Another small town falls to the wayside...

As I read the news story linked in the title of this blog, I was profoundly saddened. In Oklahoma, a small town named Picher (I don't know if it's pronounced "pitcher" or "pishay" or what) is all but closing since the mine played out in the 1970's. What was once a thriving mine town is now an over polluted ghost town (almost - there are about 800 residents left but not for long).

Last October, I was in a town called Cripple Creek in Colorado. This is a beautiful little town hidden in the Rocky Mountains, south of Colorado Springs. Like Picher, Cripple Creek was on its' way out when it managed to revive itself. Maybe someday Picher can do the same but for now, it doesn't look like it will. Not with the lead floating around there in the air and ground.

I was raised in a small town near Dayton, OH. For those not raised in a small town, I feel sorry for you. Where I was raised, we all knew each other and our parents knew each other. I went to school for thirteen years with the same people and I couldn't get in trouble in one part of town without my parents hearing about it before I got home. My high school reunion was last year and it felt more like a family reunion. I'm sure Picher was the same way, with families living next to families and everyone knowing each other for so long they can't remember a time when they didn't.

One of my greatest memories of the town I grew up in was the volunteer fire department there. It's staffed now with paid fire fighters and EMTs but at one time it wasn't. Whenever there was an emergency call, a loud whistle on top of the fire house would sound for a minute or two. It doubled as the tornado siren after Xenia, another small town near us, had a devastating tornado with no warning. Because this siren was so important, it was tested every evening at 6 o'clock. EVERY evening... Life being as easy as it was, all of my siblings and I were out and about playing with out friends, whatever - our parents always knew we were safe because they KNEW everyone. Our only guide as to when to get home was that we hear the six o'clock whistle, it was time to head home. Sometimes Mother would ring a cowbell, if we were a few minutes late.

I live in a small town now. My son tells me it's a little too small with our nearest neighbor being more than a block away. He gets bored easily and I understand that. I used to tell my parents how I couldn't wait to turn 18 so I could lose the small-town dust from my shoes and that I spent the next 20 years trying to get it back. You don't know what you have until it's gone. But, I'll take small town living over any big city any day of the week.

I feel badly for the people of Picher, OK. While I'm sure most of them will move to yet another small town, it's someone else's small town. Picher was home to generations of families and it's no longer going to be that way. New memories will be created but it's going to take a couple of generations to make the new small town their home.

With urban sprawl taking up so many acres of so many small towns, how long is it before the demise of Picher and towns like it becomes so common we don't have them any longer?