A Life in Ruins: Part II

Fall                                    Waning Back to School Moon

When I visited Angkor in 2005, I wrote a piece for my Pilgrimage series entitled, A Life in Ruins.  Ephesus, Delphi, Delos,Rome. Pompeii, numerous civil war battlefields and Attuthya are among the many ruins I’ve visited, trying to piece together from blocks of stone, information plaques and Blue Guides their meaning and significance. At Knossos I wondered what it felt like to be in the labyrinth of rooms that made up what entered legend as the habitation of the Minotaur.  At Delos I imagined what the birth of Apollo and Diana was like.

Given that history, amazing is an understatement when I discovered my actual life had become a site with ruins, not one, but many.  In my hometown of Alexandria the first factory in which I2010-10-02_0396 worked, Johns-Manville has nothing left but concrete coated pillars and a loading dock.  I worked as a receiving clerk the summer I was there, so I knew exactly what went on there when the trains loaded with coak and limestone rolled onto the factory grounds.

That was the first, but far from the last.  The old High School, my middle school, gone.  Tomlinson, my first elementary school. Gone.  Most of the businesses of my youth, abandoned shells.  This is only in Alex.  In Anderson the mighty General Motors Guide  Lamp and Delco Remy, employers once of 25,000, gone.  Parking lots and concrete factory pads covering thousands of square feet and fenced in with tall chain link are all that remains.

If we had a magic button we could push, one that would light up the home’s lost among those 25,000, we would have a better estimate of the lives ruined along with these structures.  These are the missing elements at Ephesus, Rome, Delos.  What about the lives of the priests, the grounds keepers, the cooks, the sailors?  Like members of my class and their parents forces beyond their control eliminated the places where they earned their livings.  Places made sacred by the holy work of labor.  So much desecration.

These factories, these shops, these shuttered houses, these abandoned people are the friends and family with which I spent the weekend, real people, not statistics.  Never did I think that the mighty flood of cars bearing workers on Highway 9, no absurdly named Highway of Vice Presidents, would dry up.  Never did I think that the vibrant small town of my youth with its mens store, its womens store, two variety stores, two pharmacies, a bakery, two theatres, bars and banks and service stations would fade away only to be replaced by dollar stores and wholesale outlets.

So this weekend, an affair of the heart most of all, a reconnecting with those who lived then, only underscores the pain.  I will never visit a new ruin again with the same detached attitude.  Real people lived there;  real people suffered.