Friday, November 25, 2011

Ruff, Washington

I haven't posted for a long while. I blame two things: NaNoWriMo, and getting married. The latter took up way more time, and left me with precious little for anything else. But it's happened now, I have a husband, and that's wonderful.

This year for Thanksgiving I went to Eastern Washington to spend the day with the husband's family. His mother (and his uncle and aunts) were all born in a little spot of a place called Ruff (pronounced Roof), Washington. It's barely visible on maps. There are grain silos, a couple of streets, one house and several trailers. Almost everyone living there is a cousin of my husband, but that's not a lot of people, maybe a dozen. If Ruff was ever incorporated, no one seems to know about it.

It wasn't always like that, though. Once upon a time, there used to something like a real town there. In the teens of the last century, there was a Model T assembly plant which lasted for some years, and the town was host to a rail station of some note. There would have been a store or two, and housing for the people who worked in the plant, and probably a bar or a restaurant. There was certainly a ten room hotel, which lasted into the 70s though not as a commercial operation; instead, my husband's mother and her siblings grew up in it, moving from room to room as the mood took them, with their parents hosting massive parties in the huge, dilapidated building. I don't know when everyone had moved out by, but it couldn't have been later than about 1975 or so. The building lasted a while longer, in an ever more ruinous state, before finally being torn down maybe 20 years ago. No one seems certain about when exactly that happened. If you look at the map, you can still see the vague ruins of the building on the corner of Main and W3.

Towns like this used to exist all over the rural areas of the nation, little places where local production and industry flared up before consolidation and better transportation did away with them. Probably there were a few hundred people in Ruff at one point, and a few hundred in dozens of similar places just in Washington that have since vanished off the map, mostly or entirely.

Another is Marlin, the "town" the was part of my husband's address when he was a little kid. It's part of a place called Krupp that changed its name during WWI, as Krupp was the name of Germany's biggest armaments firm. But it's still half Krupp and half Marlin, and both are listed on maps. Which is silly, as the place has only 60 people, the smallest incorporated community in Washington State. It's a speck, a spot on a map that you might not even find. There's a post office, left over from better days. There's not a gas station, from what I can tell, and there's no businesses at all beyond the P.O. Why there are still any people there, I can't guess. I suppose most of them work small farms, because that's the sort of area it's in. I suppose also that many of those people are children, who will move away to a big town like Moses Lake, or dream big and head to Seattle; or else fall into meth and boredom and linger on in their empty spaces.

We drove through dozens of little decaying places: Harrington and Wilbur and Hartline, Almira and Coulee City and others whose names I can't recall. Everything breaking down and vanishing, the old lovely houses replaced by trailers, the trailers replaced by empty fields littered with old rusty wreckage, the fields forgotten except for a little graveyard tucked away in an odd corner.

If there were more hills and hollows, it would all be well suited for horror, but the vistas are too open, the light too bright. I wonder what it would take to give some life back to these places, to make them attractive to people again. In this age when the internet brings the world to your home, I wonder that it doesn't promote more distant living. But at least near Ruff, it doesn't. It's lonely out there, and vast. All the little places are being swallowed up in the distance.

1 comment:

  1. Ahh good old eastern Washington (he say's with sarcasm)

    ReplyDelete