The rest of the town began dying after World War II when people began moving away from the farming communities and rural towns to the cities where they helped build the great American middle class in the suburbs.
And so it was that by the time my parents moved the family back home, there were roughly twice as many people in the cemetery as there were out.
The town was supposedly 12 miles south of the county seat. But, on occasion, strangers to the area would drive the posted distance and end up 1 1/2 miles south of town, and on those occasions, those same strangers would turn around and stop at the small country store my daddy owned to inquire as to the location of the town.
I learned at an early age that people were not very observant, but on the other hand, who could really blame them? I am certain that my hometown is where some genius transportation planner got the idea of building highway bypasses around towns. I am equally sure one of those hapless travelers was the founder of 7-11 and got the idea of convenience stores when he stopped at our little country store to ask for directions.
Urban development in my neck of the woods was not a federal program, but an act of nature. As neglected sidewalks cracked, Johnson grass grew unchecked and as the Johnson grass grew, the sidewalks cracked. Growing up there, Johnson grass and decaying sidewalks seemed to be part of a never-ending cycle that continued unbroken over a span of billions of years.
Watching grass grow or waiting for a building to collapse in what was left of downtown was depressing. So, it was really exciting news when it was announced the town was getting its own municipal water system. It was even greater news when the project was completed. The announcement came on a day I was getting my hair cut. The contractor walked into the barbershop to make the announcement to the barber who, apparently, was an alderman. I didn’t know the barber was an alderman. I didn’t even know a board of aldermen existed because I’d never heard of any kind of town council meeting.
In fact, there were only two groups of men and one group of women who met on a regular basis outside of church on Sunday. The two men’s groups met daily: the spitters and whittlers met on the sidewalk in front of the pool hall on the opposite side of the street from the barbershop where they spat tobacco juice, whittled and swapped stories. The other group met fairly regularly in front of the blacksmith shop where they spat tobacco juice, traded knives and also swapped stories.
There were many stories circulating in the small town in which most of it inhabitants rested in the cemetery. The women’s group met monthly in the school cafeteria where they discussed domestic issues.
So, starved for some exciting tidbit of information, it was with great interest that I listened to the conversation between the barber and the contractor.
“Finally, I can report to you, sir, the project is finished,” the contractor said.
With little emotion, the barber acknowledged the completion of the municipal water supply. I was relieved he showed no emotion. He had become a little bit jumpy after his car was hit broadside by a train.
So, it was with great relief that he kept his composure as he held my right ear with one hand and a straight razor with the other.
“Where’s the red light that goes on top?” he finally asked, pinching my ear as he still held the straight razor.
“Well,” the contractor replied, “the storage tank is not high enough to warrant a red light. It doesn’t need a red light because it doesn’t pose a threat to aviation.”
And, as it turned out, that was a true statement. Even the plane that crashed in the graveyard did not fly low enough to hit the water tower. But the saddest part of not having a red light atop the water tower is that unfamiliar travelers still drive 1 1/2 miles past town before they turn around to ask directions at the gas station.