money and memories in a small town

My dad’s family reunion meets every year at my uncle’s place on the weekend closest to Independence Day. We’ve been doing that since he purchased the property over 25 years ago. He has an old tobacco farm on the outskirts of a town of 47 people. The town has an antiques store, a post office, and a combination three-pump gas station and general store. There used to be a bank but it shut down a few years ago. That building now serves as the county’s repository for genealogical and historical society records. Money replaced by memories.

Any supplies beyond the basics and any hope for income has to be had in a larger town, the closest being 20 miles away (about 11 miles as the crow flies), through white-knuckle, 2-lane twisting, hilly roads the locals treat like a speedway. It takes more than half an hour of nervous-breakdown driving to get into the larger town of 2,500 people. Of course the scenery is gorgeous but hard to enjoy while experiencing a driving-induced psychic break.

(I might be exaggerating.)

road to busters

Like most of eastern Kentucky, the town is economically depressed. It boomed when oil drilling took place but flopped after discovering that the drilling polluted the water supply. Almost 80 percent of the town’s population left when the oil company left. I don’t know what people who still live there do to make a buck. My uncle is a retired truck driver but what about the other folks?

There is talk of a Dollar General coming into town which would be a huge source of goods for people in the area and would create a few jobs. The trade-off is that it would likely put the gas station/general store out of business.

That would be a shame because even though it’s overpriced, it has personality and tries to cater to the community with canning supplies, farm equipment parts and tools, and products you might expect in a country store. I doubt the Dollar General will carry anything like moonshine jelly or old-fashioned chow chow. I don’t think they’ll sell cast iron cookware or huge sauerkraut crocks.

It’ll be the same old tired things you can get at almost any of the dollar stores across the country. I worry that it will bring in cheap goods that people can afford but aid in losing the memory of how people lived here for more than a century.

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