2.28.2015

when the center does not hold

My neighbor.
"Mass Murder in a Missouri Town!"
 The heart of the country has been hollowed out. Not too many people are left in rural America.  Mostly the aging, the poor, the drug seekers and the hopeless.  And in the hills and hollers of the Ozarks, things have gotten really grim.  
    I should know. I was raised in the Ozarks until the age of eight. Then I moved to New York, where I became a writer for Life and People magazines. But when Life folded, I was drawn back to the area to write a story about white supremacists for the short-lived George magazine. The Ozarks felt like home. I still live in New York City, but I spend months at my disused gas station in Thomasville, Missouri, about an hour south of Tyrone. As in Tyrone, the gas station is gone, the post office is gone, the grocery store is gone, the bank is gone, the school is gone, the beer store is gone, the people are gone. There are only about 70 inhabitants left  in my town. They run a few cattle, cut a few trees, collect disability and social security and worry about Obama taking their guns.
   I wonder whether the folks in Tyrone wish somebody had taken Joe Aldridge’s gun before he shot seven of his kinfolk and himself on February 26. I wonder how people keep from going crazy in isolated places with no jobs and no future. My neighbor across the street in Missouri, who calls himself a hillbilly,  has never seen the sea or been in any state other than Arkansas, 20 miles away. He cannot read. Lately, he has begun to believe that I am controlling him with my computer. He lives on corn meal mush and venison from deer he poaches. He is a good shot.
    I wonder how it is that a sprinkling of desperate people in rural areas of the South and Midwest and West have become so important in national elections.  I wonder what is going to happen to Tyrone, when even in a small town in the middle of the Lord’s nowhere you have to lock your doors against your family members.
    I would like to go to Tyrone, just a few hundred miles from the geographic center of the continental U.S., and find out what is happening to rural America. I would wait until the TV trucks leave and the newspaper reporters have filed their stories, and the townfolk are alone again. I would like to understand this man, this family, these murders, this place, these United States.

5 comments :

linda gomez said...

In writing about tragedy, elegance and simplicity are essential. You always have both, and more.

My husband's people are from Hartville, 35 miles west of Tyrone as the crow flies, 49 miles on the road. A few years back we buried his mom's cremains there. I was intrigued; Hubby couldn't leave fast enough. We found the house where his mother was born and visited the gent now living there. He was in his 40's, had 10 or 12 teeth, ate from his garden & the rabbits he raised & was very proud of both. Clearly he wasn't use to people. I sensed his tolerance for others was quite limited, although he oozed loneliness.

I look forward to the story you'll write, Claudia. love, gomez.

CBA said...

I think he reached a breaking point that many of us who are not in the top 1 % are approaching.

Can't pay the bills, can't afford rent, can't even afford food.

Too bad he didn't just shoot himself, which is what I feel like doing most of the time.

Claudia said...

Ah, but you've got The Americans!

David Van Biema said...

I hope you do go, Claudia. Love, David

Phill said...

The 'mainland' is incomprehensible from the coasts.