By Tom Geller
The Rust Belt is a story of wealth. At one time palaces of brick, sandstone, and granite lined certain streets as sentinels of the boulevard. You know this because you’ve seen them yourself in neighborhoods now glowing yellow with lottery stores and check-cashing places. These were the homes of industrialists, we’re told, well rewarded for their special place in history, at a special moment in history.
[blocktext align=”left”]Those of a nostalgic bent can compare the ruins with yesterday’s splendor, overlaying the two in our minds like ghost exposures on a roll of film. [/blocktext]Their wealth has gone; their houses, ruined. They were proud, I imagine, and every one of them bustling with health. Then they die, perhaps with their wealth still intact, in a high-pillowed bed. Or they outlive their relevance to expire anonymously in a nursing home. It doesn’t matter. A hailstone opens a chink in the roof, which leads rain into the walls, which weakens the plaster, which opens more holes, which kills the house. Dad’s cancer found his kidneys. Nobody knows life’s path better than a corpse.
We who remain have a hard time seeing these blocks as anything but the remains of a meal picked over, digested, and eliminated long ago. Those of a nostalgic bent can compare the ruins with yesterday’s splendor, overlaying the two in our minds like ghost exposures on a roll of film. Memories fade as on an old postcard, or are distorted through the hero worship of place. In our youth the hills were always higher, the winters always colder.
More houses are pulled down than fall down, replaced by whatever’s needed now. In living cities, protests accompany such decisions as a collective mourning over the loss of a favorite bodega, school, or dry cleaner. That sadness masks the fact that this is a champion’s death, the best one could hope for. In other places — most places, our places — the best we can do is collapse in an alley, unwatched and unknown.
Life is fast but time is slow. First the body is stripped of its valuables — vultures are the apex entrepreneurs — then left for ever-smaller organisms. Insects pick away the flesh, raccoons nest in the attic. Those three stones in a row — was that a foundation? A sidewalk? The stepping-off point for ladies boarding high carriages on the boulevard? No matter. A sparrow browses the ground for seeds.
The bones, eventually, are hauled away or buried by natural forces. Wind and rain soften other parts into a slurry that runs off and feeds the ground. Then high grass grows in the fields near Grand River. The dead have been, are being, will be buried. It’s the opposite of archaeology.
Tom Geller is a writer who lives in Oberlin, Ohio.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Theodore Ferringer.