Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Death of a Boyhood Home.

My life hasn't been a stable one. I've had more than my share of change: cities, states, partners, friends, names, family, geography. I don't think I could list all the different addresses I've had since I turned 18. My brother, many years ago, wrote my address in his Address Book in pencil so that it could be easily erased. I remember one time when I first moved to Reno, that I had four moves in a couple of months. Change has been a constant feature in my adult life.

But for the first 18 years of my life (except a couple of summers), I lived in one residence. My mom and dad's home in Rushford, Minnesota. How we ended up living in this monster beheamoth Victorian is unbeknownst to me; our family income certainly didn't match the house. It was a Victorian in a sleepy little river town in southeastern Minnesota. A town filled with Victorians and amazing architecture.

Rushford had around 1,000 people living in it back then. Rural. In the "Driftless Area" meaning that, for some inexplicable reason, the last few glaciers didn't squish the place flat. What was left behind were "bluffs". From a child's perspective, they were mini-mountains. Hardwood forests and "open space" (in the words of city planners) abounded. I crawled all over those bluffs. All of them surrounding the town of Rushford. Some of the bluffs had names: Magellson's (I don't know who Magellson was, but there is a city park on top of the bluff); "Star" bluff was where the "star" was that was lit up at Christmas. I used to carry my tent in a pack up to the top of that one and camp out, looking out over the town below. No trails back then: I just grunted the stuff straight up the bluff.

It was an idyllic childhood with lots of time playing in creeks and hiking the bluffs. Rare was the day that my friends and I weren't out hiking. My huge leg muscles were developed from such exploits.

Life was stable back then. The economy was good. Rushford was supported by "The Plant". This was a factory that made heater switches for GM. Two shifts churned these things out, day after day. It gave a decent wage to hundreds of workers who could live very inexpensivlely  in this town. My mom was one of them who worked in the factory from the day it opened nearly up until the day it was dismantled and shipped to Mexico courtesy of NAFTA and Bill Clinton. Voters for Hillary, be warned.

Our town of 1,000 people boasted three grocery stores, a butcher shop, a fantastic bakery, three diners, a local dairy that made their own ice cream and butter---in short, this was a localvores dream. And it still existed 45 years ago. Affluence had its downside too; much of the beautiful downtown architecture got torn down in order to modernize. Rushford lost many of its historic buildings. Other towns that weren't so prosperous, like Lanesboro, were discovered by Yuppies from the Twin Cities and became a tourist destination with fancy restaurants, a theatre (acting kind) and newly restored downtown buildings turned into B and B's.

That was Rushford in the 60's and 70's. I miss it.

Of course, I couldn't wait to get out of there. I dreamed of going to the city, then moving all over the place, eventually settling in California after a bunch of craziness. I've lived in Vegas, Reno, the Napa Valley, and the western slope of Colorado. From my upbringing, the one rule I've had is that I want to live in a place of physical beauty. Vegas was a move out of desperation for a job--but there is beauty there if you look for it.

But now that that house back in Rushford is gone, I find myself immensely sad.

It is said that to have a sense of "Place" you need Space and Culture. Space and Culture = Place. Now that almost every place looks the same; the same restaurants, the same gas stations, the same architecture, the same Box Stores---it hardly matters where you live. We've lost the culture part. Or rather, the economics of Corporate Culture destroyed all that was local.

Except for where the rich congregate. They can afford to have a sense of place. Witness the Napa Valley with their "NO CHAIN RESTAURANT" rules. Or Lanesboro, Minnesota.

One of my places is gone now. That bedrock of childhood yanked away by Alzheimer's and the need to pay for care.

I fear I will never get over it.