Rural America After the Recession, Part One: A Plague of an Entirely Different Kind

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Photo by Jan Banning

 A lot seems to have changed over the last four years. At first, things, momentarily, appear a lot better than I thought they would. The subdivisions which buffer my folks’ neck of the woods on all sides - left and right, in front of and behind - seem to be filled with people, perhaps frugal transplants who eyed some available real estate and snatched up property at reduced prices. There is a lot of green en route to Griffin Road, from rolling pastures to the leafy tops of trees that somehow managed to survive a tornado outbreak about a year earlier. The bucolic countryside, with its almost incandescent green fields and an array of knotted and twisted oaks in the background, reminds me less of northwest Georgia and more of the landscape described by Tolkien in “The Lord of the Rings.” In some ways, I felt like Frodo Baggins returning to the Shire - after a long journey, for better and for worse, I was finally home.

After awhile, however, I notice perhaps a bit too much green dotting the landscape. The weeds had grown ridiculously tall, standing four or five feet high. A makeshift memorial, built for a kid who died in a car wreck on my home road several years ago, once loomed over the hillside. Now, I can barely see the tip of the cross, which was obfuscated by a sea of yellowish vines. Fire hydrants rested in low-lying ditches, completely wrapped up in brambles and briars and snaky wildflowers. It was as if Mother Earth had opened her mouth, and had begun the slow process of digesting the entire neighborhood whole.

But it wasn’t until I pulled into my old driveway that I realized just how bad things had truly gotten. My parents’ mailbox was battered and punctured, barely standing erect next to the road. The first two homes I saw had been totally abandoned, with ivy and kudzu engulfing the trailers. And then, I got to my old stomping grounds just outside Kingston, Ga., a sight I could barely recognize, despite living there for most of my adolescent years. 

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