Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hanging on

New signs? A downtown festival (and new paint jobs to go with it), a Keep DeRidder Beautiful campaign? Sounds like DeRidder is trying hard to re-invent itself.

For the record, DeRidder was a company town--created, almost overnight, by a lumber company (Long Bell, I think) that came to claim the pine trees that once grew in abundance in this part of western Louisiana (and on into east Texas). The lumber company owned the stores, built the houses, etc. etc. Nice for people, I guess, for awhile--until the trees ran out and the lumber companies (there were several, ultimately) split, leaving the town without an industry.

From what I gather, this started to happen even before my mom was born in DeRidder. She remembers it as a thriving town. But it didn't take long for the dearth of jobs and income to affect the area. People my mom grew up with left to find jobs and a life elsewhere and didn't come back. Businesses died. The downtown looked--last time I was there with my mother--like a ghost town compared to what she'd grown up with.

The town, I think, has been scrabbling for an identity and an income ever since. By the looks of things, they don't intend to go down without a fight.

But it makes me think about the psychology of place once again...this place, in particular, had such a defined identity. It was created for a specific purpose. What happens when the purpose leaves--and the people who once inhabited it (the place, the purpose) remain? They have to find a new purpose, I guess, if they want to stay. Is that what's happening here?

As soon as I pushed "publish post" I had another I had to come back and add it. Isn't what I was just talking about--a place and a people that lost its purpose--what happened to Flint, Michigan, the subject of Michael Moore's documentary "Roger and Me."...? Here was a town whose entire identity and livelihood was built on the car industry...and then the car industry pulled out, leaving it rudderless. And like a rudderless ambled about, aimlessly, trying to re-group.

I don't know if Flint was actually created by the car companies, but it sounds awfully similar to what happened in DeRidder. I wonder if Flint ever found its feet again.

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