Growing up, I figured my hometown would stay the same forever. Going away for camp in the summer usually just meant a break from the same ol' same ol'. And understandably so, in a quiet farming community of 590 people. It was comforting to know that no matter how crazy life got in the outside world, I could always go home and return to a simpler time. Which brings me to the "why I am saddened" part. Last week when I was home it seemed eerily quiet, like a ghost town or a gold rush boomtown suddenly hit by small pox.
I can give at least one reason for the lull in activity. Two years ago, the state rebuilt a major highway which used to run straight through the middle of town; now the highway completely bypasses us. The result has been a huge loss of traffic and local revenue, especially to businesses along the old stretch of highway. Everywhere I looked last week there was another "Closed" or"For Sale" sign up in the window: the local bakery, my old day care, my Catholic grade school (closed in 2002 due to shrinking enrollment), the one and only grocery mart, the hardware store, Mike's video rental, and so on. Apparently the public schools are merging with the schools in a town 15 minutes north to consolidate resources on that front as well. According to my best friend Amanda's "scientific" guesstimations, over 50% of the population is 50 or older. She could be right. Shrinking job opportunities and diversions for young people (myself included) have made it an obvious choice to start a new life in a bigger city rather than live closer to home with more limited options. Brain drain has hit the smallest cities hardest.
Considering the current trend, I worry about what my town will look like 10 years from now. They say you can always go home, but now I wonder whether that's just a polite expression for people who live in the burbs.