R.E.M sang about Philomath. No one from the band had been to the small town east of Atlanta, but they chose the the town because the name sounded cool. There is another story that the members of the band knew someone who, when asked for directions, always said, “can’t get there from here” and they used the small town as an example. It use to be there were many places in America like this….you would have to travel from where you were at to a larger town to get the road leading back to your destination. Now unless a bridge is out, a tree down, or construction going on, that is rare. It is rare even for Waldo.
Waldo is my Philomath. The town has one traffic light of recent origin, a Lutheran and a Methodist church, a furniture store, a dairy bar and two bar and grills both claiming to specialize in the same sandwich making Waldo “the fried bologna capital of the world.” It also surprisingly has a winery, though the drive-in theater twenty minutes away is now closed and in ruins. Michael Stipe would sing that you go to Philomath when the world is a monster.
The world is a monster of late. Tomorrow a congregational vote at church and then on to work to meet a deadline for a charity run that will have nearly fifty times as many runners as Waldo has people. (Yes I find it weird that a social service agency deals with business deadlines.) And all of this as Chicago ramps up to be the capital of the world.
The headaches of a monstrous world have kept me from getting back to Ohio and seeing Waldo. I have pushed back plans to leave another five days, which means I will be in town during the NATO Summit just miles from history, certainly something to be in town for with all those protesters and heads of state. Then there are the other things to contend with, but with any luck and more than a few prayers those will break the way they should. Then I can get back to the place I still call my home state and the little town I go to when the “world is a monster.”
I do not have to stay long. A trip to the G&R for a bologna sandwich, some time on the banks of the Scioto and perhaps something from the Waldo Dairy Bar, though usually I defer that kind of treat for the Green Camp Dairy Bar, where my sister worked in high school.
For a few moments I will remember the joy and angst of thirty years ago. I will remember the provincialism I fled from and and revel in the rural solitude that I now flee to.
In my most challenging moments I have said over and over again I just want to go to some quiet little town and forget the world exists. Friends tell me I would last five minutes.
In the country things do not change in ways to make you forget and move on. People are still reminiscing about high school and glory days. In the city, things change. In Waldo, I can remember the beauty of three decades ago, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to have stayed when the same storefronts would always be there to remind me of not only the good for which I have a nostalgia, but the not so good as well. I would rather stand on the banks of the Scioto with a certain fondness that only mental and geographic distance can bring.
I often long to be in another state of mind. It is the reason for these rural pilgrimages. I’ve never been able to divorce myself from a certain rustic nature, so of late I’ve thought of the little town with about 300 people and a strange sounding name. I look forward to going back, though I know you don’t really go back. Things change. We change. We write our stories over and over again. We retain a fondness for the good old days forgetting when they were not so good. Then we move on coming back to these places to recapture an innocence that was never a reality when we were there, but are always one when we return.
Note: sign outside the G&R Bar and Grill, July 2006