Over the Mountains and Through the Woods...
To my parents’ house we go. The Spokane contingent will be making the trek to my hometown for Thanksgiving. It’s a five hour drive but I have my knitting so I won’t be complaining. In case you’re wondering, this is where my parents live. It’s also where I grew up. Really, Grotto is nothing more than a random collection of 30 houses on the side of Highway 2. Ironically, it used to be a real town of more than a thousand people. The entire area used to be economically vibrant due to: mining (largely silver, but other minerals were also mined), a cement mixing plant, and the railroad. The only one of those industries that is still operational is the railroad. In a way it’s actually kind of comforting to know that something like an entire cement plant can disappear, leaving little or no trace of its existence in just a few generations time.
My hometown has no post office, no school, no library. The only thing that brings the town’s residents together is a community well, and that has most often been a catalyst for division, rather than a uniting force. Growing up, I attended school in the next town over, Skykomish. The Skykomish school actually drew students from several towns: Skykomish, Baring, Grotto and Index. In spite of this enrollment perpetually hovered around one hundred students, grades K-12. I graduated in a class of seven.
Bill Bryson said in one of his books: “The good thing about growing up in a small town is that you know that you want to get out.” That was true for me. I always knew that I wanted to get out. One of the consequences of living twenty miles from the summit of Stevens Pass is that the nearest grocery store was forty miles down the highway, the nearest movie theater was an hour away, and when I say that there was nothing to do on a Saturday night I really mean it. There was NOTHING to do. At the time that the last census was taken there were two hundred residents of Skykomish (and of course much fewer in Grotto.) One might wonder what those two hundred residents do, in fact, DO on a Saturday night in a town where there is literally NOTHING to DO. Well, I can’t answer that question except to say that in a town of two hundred (but let’s say that there are maybe three hundred or three hundred and fifty people if you count those living in the general area) there are two bars, one stand alone tavern, and a liquor store. All of these businesses continue to operate while others (hotels, restaurants, ski shops, etc.) close.
As for me, I got out as soon as I could. I can’t say the same for most of the people that I grew up with, however. Next year will be the tenth anniversary of my high school graduation and I can tell you that there will be no need for an actual class reunion. I can tell you where all of the people that I graduated with are, and where most of the people who graduated before and after them are. Most kids intend to leave Skykomish and escape the small town life that they grew up with, but most don’t actually do it. Why? I’m not really sure. For some people life gets away from them in the form of a teen pregnancy or something similar. For others, there just seems to be a kind of inertia. A desire to get away but no real motivation to actually do it. It’s too easy to stick with what you know and who you know and continue to do what you know how to do.
Having been out on my own and living in Spokane for several years now I can understand that desire, that inertia. Every day I come into work and pretend that I know what needs to be done and how to do it. Most days I can understand why someone would be loathe to leave the familiar places and the familiar people and the familiar things that they grew up with. I glimpse it in people that I know here. People who grew up in Spokane and now know the people who know the people who can get them the interview for the job. Or the people who can always get a job with their dad’s company or their mom’s company if other opportunities fall through. Those with a backup plan that doesn’t involve selling the house and moving to another area code. I see it and I get it. And yet. I would do anything to prevent having to return to the place where I grew up.