But Few Remain

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

"Where many were, but few remain

Of old familiar things;

But seeing them, to mind again

The lost and absent brings."

-from Abraham Lincoln's poem "My Childhood Home I See Again", published in the Quincy, Illinois Whig on May 5th, 1847.

When I graduated from SEMO in late 1994, I couldn't wait to get the hell out of the Cape area. I was a native, but I hated it here. This was due in no small part to having several friends in college who were from the St. Louis area who would yammer on and on about how great St. Louis was. They usually followed this up by telling me what a cesspool Cape was. That's a potent sales pitch for a na*ve kid like myself. My friends built up St. Louis to be some great Mecca where even the Sheikh of Geek like myself could get a hot girl. Heck, according to my buddies, they handed out surplus babes at the local supermarkets when you moved into town up there in St. Louis.

So within two weeks of graduating from SEMO, off to St. Louis I went. I ended up living in the big town for just a smidgen over five years. (And no, they weren't handing out surplus women at the supermarket. Moving two hours away from here failed to make me any more of a babe magnet.)

I always enjoyed visiting the Cape area in those years I lived in St. Louis, though. For one, I loved to be able to tell everyone down here how great things were up in St. Louis. (Though, in truth, my dating life was as wretched as always. As my friends in college had done, I may have been guilty of stretching things. A bit.) I was as proud as a peacock that I had "escaped from Cape" and was making it on my own up in the big city. I couldn't stop bragging about it when I came down here to visit. You hayseeds.

When I visited Cape back then (let's say, the late 1990's), I would run into old friends and classmates everywhere. I'd be practically tripping over old acquaintances at the mall, dodging old chums at Wal-Mart, and couldn't even pump gas in my hometown of Scott City without running into at least half a dozen people I knew.

Despite all the hoopla over living in St. Louis, I eventually succumbed to homesickness. In 2000 I found myself moving back to the Cape area, voluntarily. My family was still here...I hated St. Louis traffic...I missed my old redneck stomping grounds...lower cost of living...all those added up to make the area I once reviled seem rather attractive again.

But mainly, it was memories. Every time I came home during those years I would realize how much history I had down here; I would see a certain place or landmark or person or hear a certain song (whatever, you get the point) and think, "Y'know, things here weren't so bad." I began to appreciate just how odd this area is, in both good ways and bad.

The funny thing is, by the time I finally moved back, it seemed like everyone else had gone away. All those people I'd known down here who were on the infamous "eight year college plan" and were still around when I was be-bopping around St. Louis had finally graduated and skipped town.

Everyone who wanted to leave, and could, did. And when they left, they mostly stayed gone.

I'm one of the few who got out, and was crazy enough to come back.

Unlike the late 1990's, I can now go to the mall and rarely see someone I know. Ditto for Wal-Mart. (Mall? Wal-Mart? What's the difference, right?) The area is still familiar to me, but many of the people are now gone. As I once was.

Most striking is my hometown of Scott City. Main Street looks nothing like my memories, as it bears the depressing burden of a number of vacant businesses that were mainstays of my childhood. Seeing Main Street now, compared to even five years ago, is like looking at a big toothy grin with about a bunch of teeth missing; it simply doesn't look right. A lot of those businesses have just went to seed in the last few years.

Also, many of my youthful companions have also gotten out of Dodge. Lots (though certainly not all) of the kids I knew in school have been scattered into the wind. Some you always knew would leave; some who were content to "just get by", you know wouldn't. Some leave that you never thought would. Some, though apparently few, leave and come back.

So, what you have in my hometown is a place that doesn't look like the town I knew anymore, and doesn't feel like it either. If not for my family, and some of the more permanent scenery and landmarks, I might as well be on Mars.

"But few remain, of old familiar things", as Abraham Lincoln once wrote of his old childhood home. As I get older, perhaps I should get used to the feeling that things just don't quite fit anymore. And some things, mainly me, probably never will again.

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