Back to the Future–The Illinois Edition

La Lubu has a post up at Feministe that made me cry.  Granted, I’m on shaky emotional ground as it is, but when she started listing all those towns… Those are the places I grew up. The Butcher’s tattooed friend lost his job in one of those towns this week.

It’s funny to consider the jackass Saturday who was saying that the Teapartiers just want to take America back to where it was 100 years ago.  In 1909 my grandfather’s parents were so poor, working as farmhands that he was born in a building also being used as a chicken coop (or so the family story goes).  Almost everyone in my family owes the success they had in the 20th century to the railroad.  My grandpa’s dad was able to get a job on the railroad that allowed them out of bone-crushing poverty and let them move into town.

My other grandpa got a job with the Rock Island Railroad that his father-in-law hooked him up with, also a railroad man.

The Rock Island Line was, as you know, a mighty good line. You used to ride it like you’re flying.  Now you can’t ride it at all.

It’s funny because when the railroads started to suffer, the Midwest kind of knew it was in trouble.  But we ignored it.

And then farming started to suffer.  It was almost 25 years ago that John Mellencamp released “Scarecrow” and it’s not like things improved in that time for farmers.

But you know, if you lost your farm, you sucked it up and went to work for Cat or John Deere or some other place where you made the parts for the machines you didn’t use any more.  And now those jobs are gone.

When we lived in Aledo, just south of us was this tiny town, Seaton, with a bank (though it wasn’t open any more) and some businesses (also closed) and some houses.  It was almost like a movie set when you drove through it sometimes, because there was just no one left there.

It’s creepy, sometimes, when you see the combines, like big metal ghosts of bison in the tall corn, like we’re headed back to a place that looks very similar to where we began–large monsters slowly crawling through tall grass, what people are left huddled together near rivers (of water or of asphalt), wondering how to make a go of it here.

I guess what I’m saying is that, if you want to see what it was like 100 years ago, you better head to Illinois right now, because if this can’t be turned around, when you head to the Midwest, it’s going to seem further in the past than that.

4 thoughts on “Back to the Future–The Illinois Edition

  1. Pingback: The Decline Of Small Town America : Post Politics: Political News and Views in Tennessee

  2. There are many comments I want to make to this post. But I’m crying too hard to make them. Midwest America is a ghost town housing only corporate farms and memories.

  3. Another song about farmers being driven out of “business” was Jethro Tull’s “Farm on the Freeway” (from their “Crest of a Knave” album?) IIRC, it is roughly the same age.

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