37 / 365 – School closing

PAM TILLARY

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.

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5 thoughts on “37 / 365 – School closing

  1. That’s interesting … “the charm of ennui.” Not what I thought I was doing, although I didn’t even get hitched up to the topic I thought she was going to talk about. The school closing was just going to be the current event hook. And so it goes.

    In this story there are three friends who would now be in their mid-20s except two of them are dead. I’m getting to know their parents. You met one of them earlier in the month, but I hadn’t explored the others. They are evolving as we go.

    In any case, they were supposed to start telling some family stories. They never do what I say. But one of these days.

    This has been a crazy week and I regret I couldn’t participate in your bite-sized contest. I had hoped to.

    • Yes, I get the family ties and the connections. I feel them evolving. However, your intimacy with the landscape, the small town psychic girth that goes with history and layered stories in your characters… gets under my skin – emotional landscape/physical landscape. ; )
      Great stuff.
      They’ll be more bite size stories. ; )

      • Niya, I can’t thank you enough for giving these readings the time. That last comment made me very happy. Something here is actually working the way I intended. Most of the best of what I’ve done so far hasn’t been intentional, just given. But you are pointing at something I’ve consciously tried to overlay. Thanks for that gift — it made me a very happy guy this morning.

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