In my dreams, I live on the outskirts of towns like these.
When I wake up, I’m driving a fifteen-year-old sedan through a bigger small town situated in the remote corn fields of northwestern Missouri.
People where I grew up don’t really understand that something between the ghost towns of old movies and country songs and their micropolitan areas are 19th century buildings lining the two-lane highways cutting across large spaces of the middle United States.
If you don’t stop for gas, you may not make it to the next stop.
Bars like these may still be open, but many of them are recently boarded up.
As I drive past these places, I wish I knew the stories behind the peeling paint. Most of these towns started during the first rural-to-urban migrations at the beginning of the 20th century, but their final glory days faded some time in the mid- to late 1970s when the Boomers left the farms for good.
Inhabitants of these small towns hold, if not take, pride in their homes and haunts like these. On an off-chance, their violent histories and onion rings or burgers might make it onto some Food Network or History Channel shows.
Churches and schools with students of only 90 from K-12 stick around, but a lot of the kids ride buses for up to an hour or more. I’ve been fortunate to write about some of the best things coming from places that would otherwise be known for shame.
The churches, made of faithful attendees and faithfully departed, gather with 35 or 40 congregants on Sunday mornings.
When some people ask me to describe where I live, I can’t explain it well enough.
I watch, but I’m an outsider, really. These places are pieces of where my ancestors lived. They don’t look like what my parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents remember.
As connected as I might feel, I live here but am only a visitor.