Out-living a small town in Appalachia

This Sunday I went to my great-uncle’s funeral in Hindman, Kentucky. He was the youngest of 11 children and the last one living. Good-bye to that generation. It’s weird to have one layer of family gone. But, even more unsettling is a comment made by one of the people who gave a eulogy. He said that he moved to Hindman in 1956 and since then there are only two businesses still remaining. One is the Bank of Hindman. The other is the funeral home. As he said, my uncle, at age 82, had outlived his town.

I am sure that this is not an uncommon story. Drive through the rural parts of the U.S. and you’ll be met up with towns that do not resemble in the least what they once were. I saw several while driving through North Dakota on my way to Regent, a town that is also struggling.

Still, there’s Hindman and my uncle’s tale. He was the post master there for years and he owned the movie theater that doesn’t exist any more. He also ran the drive-in that hasn’t been around for a few decades. I’m not even sure where it was. It’s startling how fast change can occur to the point that much of a place is no longer recognizable. The vibrancy of life that existed in Hindman that my uncle captured with a movie camera back when my mother was a child is no where to be seen. Places like Hindman, as seen through the years of my uncle’s life, remind me of the line “Nothing gold can stay.”

In an interesting twist of irony, my uncle is not buried in the family cemetery that could very well be covered over by woods one day. Instead, he opted for the manicured perpetual care cemetery next door. I guess by watching his town dwindle over his lifetime, he decided to not take any more chances.