They’re going to close the school up in Newscastle. The school board just decided last night. A long night, it seems like everyone came down to speak at the hearing. If there had really had been enough people left to justify keeping it open, that could have been a problem. The meeting would have run well after midnight. But the town is down to, what, 30 people? There’s more living around there, on farms, but not families with children. The farm families are getting older. They haven’t had middle school classes up there in ten or twenty years, I think, but they had two classrooms hanging on. Tom used to say they’d cling to it until the roof caved in, which he said probably wouldn’t be long since the board can’t manage a budget. That’s a joke, coming from him. He’s always thinking about everything like it’s the seeder plant, gotta run efficiently, cut costs, keep the lines full — all that kind of talk. Sometimes I think he thinks schools are little factories, turning out educated kids. And, he would, educated kids who can either come work for me or who, if they’re smart, will move somewhere else where there’s a future.
So that may be it for Newcastle. We’ve seen this play out with other towns around here, like Newdorf and Alta. First the rail spur gets torn up, and that pretty much means the end of the elevator. The stores are probably already gone. Then the school. Then the cafe, if they have one. They haven’t had a cafe up in Newcastle since we moved here, although I sometimes used to hear about one that closed. Then the school goes. That’s pretty much the end, when the school goes. That means the kids are mostly gone and the ones that are left probably are going to feel as much attachment to Jericho as their little town. They’ll start to say they’re ‘from’ Jericho. Ed Armbrust, our music teacher, used to get mad at people from Newdorf saying they were from Jericho. He’s kind of like a ghost down there now, that town is down to just him and maybe two or three other people.
The repair shop always seems to be the last thing to go. I don’t know why that is. There’s a repair shop up in Newcastle — I can’t remember the guy’s name who owns it, has had it as long as we’ve been here. That may be all that’s left. You go up there and the buildings that are left are all closed down.
You wonder if that will happen here, too, sometime. Everybody here is so rooted. Everybody knows their family history, the good and the bad. Everybody seems to have a pioneer story, and even if you came out in the 1930s when there were the droughts, well, that makes a pioneer story, too. You don’t see many new people, though. People like me who came here with their husband or their wife, but not even many of them either. What would they come for? The seeder plant hasn’t added people in fifteen years. Everybody knows it’s going to close one of these days, maybe sooner if the union gets tough on this contract. Everything is shrinking. The whole town is shrinking, getting stooped with age.
I said the repair shop was the last thing that goes. Funny but we’ve lost that here. Fred Vanek had that shop, where Finn worked for awhile when he was in high school. Seemed like a good business but he burned himself last fall and had to close it down. I think Lizabeth Haraldsen, his daughter, is trying to find someone to buy it. I think that’s what’s happening — we don’t really talk, since the accident. Maybe there won’t be a buyer, and we’ll lose our repair shop now. Maybe we’re also starting the final chapter and we don’t even realize it. In life, you don’t really know the story you’re in, the story you’re writing, you just live it. And then someone comes along and closes the book and says, “OK, this is over now!” I’ll bet that’s how they feel this morning up in Newcastle.