I don’t know what got me thinking about this the other day, but I was remembering all the times I watched the movie Cars when my kids were little, and how they found it reliably hilarious that I would always cry at the musical montage above. Of course Songs (and other triggers, but mostly songs) That Made Mom Cry were a constant source of amusement for my kids; I’m an easy cryer and all kinds of things set me off.
But in the case of this song and video clip from Cars, there’s a very specific cry-trigger: the idea of small towns that were once busy and bustling but got abandoned along the way in the rush to modern life. And when I think of that, then it reminds me of other, similar things that have brought a tear to my eye. One of them, in fact, may have been where this whole train of thought started.
I was recently reading a book (Jamie Fitzpatrick’s excellent The End of Music) about the heyday of the Gander International Airport. Gander is better known to most people nowadays because of the stranded 9/11 passengers and their hosts, memorialized in the Broadway musical Come From Away. But long before that, Gander was a hub of international air travel, back when transatlantic flights had to stop to refuel.
A couple of summers ago I had occasion to fly out of Gander airport, catching a flight to Halifax during a very foggy July when it seemed like nearly ever flight out of here was grounded due to fog. When I got to Gander and went through security, the single security officer there said, “You’m goin’ to Halifax or Goose?”
On top of the frazzled, stressed day I was having — driving all the way from St. John’s to Gander and still not being sure my flight would get into Halifax on time — her question nearly brought me to tears. There were only two flights going out of Gander that afternoon — my flight to Halifax, and another to Goose Bay. This, for a place that was once the airline hub of the Western world. Definitely a “Main Street isn’t Main Street anymore” moment.
That reminded me of yet another moment … several years ago, when on a Sunday morning some friends and I decided to go take in the morning service at a little Salvation Army corps around the bay. Like most small-town churches of almost any denomination, it was sparsely attended and mostly by older people. In announcements before the service, one of the officers was bringing the congregation up to date on what had happened to a large donation they had received for buying band instruments. Because the church had no band members left, they had donated some to another corps in a larger centre that had more young people and a functioning band; they used the rest to buy a “Promoted to Glory” flag. That’s the flag they drape over coffins at a Salvation Army funeral. Money that had been donated for a thriving band of mostly-young Salvationists was being used instead for a flag to drape over coffins, because that’s who was left in town — the elderly and the dying.
I don’t know why the decline of small towns pulls at my heart so much. I’m an urban person. I live in the largest urban area (which is still smallish, about 150,000 people) in my province. If I moved to Ontario I’d want to live in downtown Toronto. I like cities. I’d go stir-crazy in a small town.
Yet the thought of small towns dying, of the people who lived there moving away and these vibrant little places being left behind and emptied of life and energy, for some reason, always makes me cry.
I don’t want to live in a small town. I guess I just want them to be there.