For Melissa Pierson, the world began at Garner’s Hamburger Stand in Akron Ohio. In her calculation mine began in the foothills of northeast Kentucky. For most of us with the possible exception of our brothers and sisters the world begins in different places. It starts when a man asks a simple question and if the answer is “Yes,” then the world begins.
Garner’s is now gone and the hills near Grayson Kentucky have been paved over. The love stories fade and we go off into the world to invent new ones only to see those fade too. Melissa Pierson went to look for rebirth and love in Hoboken New Jersey and upstate New York. She recounts this in her book The Place You Love is Gone. In both cases the quest was as futile as it was in Akron as progress everywhere cares more for chain operations and big box retailers than for the love of two people, the nostalgia of childhood, or rebuilding one’s life in yet another locale.
Grayson Kentucky still exists to me, though it is the place of funerals as much as my parents’ love story. My father can recall it being a different place, a place long gone. As progress started to take its toll, he left for military service and in 1970 bought a home in Marion Ohio to reinvent his life in the place where I would come of age. The home is there, but the place is gone.
Progress has taken its toll. The mall destroyed the downtown my parents knew. They must have been somewhat dismayed, though I was not. I loved the Southland Mall as much as the roller rink and pizza joints that marked my life as a teenager. At least it gave them some modest pleasure their children could enjoy the places that had destroyed the town they loved.
I went back to Ohio. I’ve done it often.
The mall is barely there. The Meijers store and Walmart as well as a myriad of chain restaurants on route 95 have all but done it in. Teens are not to be found there. I walk down its central corridor pass empty stores and occasionally see someone I know, a middle aged never to have left person who saw our classmates flee for Columbus or places farther afield. We say hi and catch up a little and return to a life where the vitality of the Southland Mall exists only in nostalgia.
I have come 300 miles. The broken white lines are the saddest sight I know. They were there in my teenage angst and my adulthood remembrances of life and things fall apart moments.
I now go to Ohio only for visits. They always end with goodbyes. Some are tougher than others, but they all end with “until we meet again.” Left unsaid is the “if we meet again.” I drive across the state, at least a hundred miles of it, and think of the Michael Stanley song “Lover.” “Thank God for the man who put the white lines on the highway.”
I especially like driving at dawn or dusk when I can in the melancholy that accompanies a goodbye assuage my sadness with the beauty of muted light. According to Pierson, progress may have hit home filling the landscape with Applebees and Olive Gardens, but on route 30 little has changed other than the number of lanes. The rural landscape looks much the same, though not entirely. It changes dramatically miles from Indiana.
Funny how a welcome sign can change one’s perspective. The “Welcome to Indiana” sign tells me that I can put the geography of a goodbye behind me even if its psychology remains. Before arriving to a new state, I am greeted by the massive wind turbines that now dot the landscape of Van Wert County. They are my visual markers I am about to leave the geography of a good bye. It is important to see them at the right time. I time my trips so that their metallic skins are caught in the burgeoning yellow of a new day or the diminishing orange of a day that is soon to pass. They are beautiful and yet they are progress, though in the best way possible.
Downtown Marion is near gone as is the Southland Mall. I am left cold with route 95 though I find myself there more than either the mall or downtown. I am left cold, though not too much so. I see the young milling about the stores and eating in restaurants. And I think the world began for them at the mall even if it is to be reinvented in lifestyle centers, which will one day fade for a new type of progress. They and their children will travel across a landscape where wind turbines are common. I hope they see them in the coming or fading light of day. I hope they can be for them markers of a geography of goodbyes as these are sometimes necessary, but even more I hope they can, for the children yet to be born, mark a geography of where the world began.