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It's understandable that most folks think Nebraska is flat, because their only experience with the state is the mind-deadening fields of corn as they barrel down I-80 along the Platte river valley. They haven't stopped since Des Moines, and they're eating up miles at 85 to the hour until they get to Denver.
But Nebraska's not flat. It's got a dizzying array of landscapes, once you work your way north of the interstate. And it's the tiny town of Rockville, up in Custer County, whose beautiful dusty hills hold so many of my memories.
How do you come to terms with a dying town? It's hemmorhaging residents at a steady rate of 5% per year, and every time I go back the roads are worse, the population's older, and another local business has taken down the shingle. I can barely stand to see the decrepit storefronts that thrived 40 years ago when I wandered the streets with no cares in the world except a quarter in my pocket and orders to be home 'fore dinner.
I should be glad the town's dying. It means that folks, like me, have found opportunity that small town America just can't provide. A nice house in the 'burbs, a Buick, Montessori schools. The American Dream. I know my nostalgia isn't rational, but it still hurts. Sometimes I think I'll go back. I've got the business instinct, the tiger's eye. Bring in some industry, re-open the cinema, maybe even get a pizza joint so folks don't have to drive clear down to Broken Bow for a pie. Make it a real Town Like Alice.
But it ain't gonna happen. No one wants to live out in the sticks, and I don't think I want to, either, even though I miss it so damn badly.
Date Written: January 27, 2005
Average Vote: 4