Last night, we showed the movie (which you can rent for $3.99 here), at Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmitsburg, in Western Maryland, just south of Gettysburg. It’s where I attended college 1995-1999. It was lovely to see former fellow students and professors who still teach there, and a thrill to present work almost exactly 20 years after I graduated. The college, because of its isolation and shared commitments, is like an idyllic small town. If I wanted to pick a professor’s brain about evolution, I could take my lunch tray and sit down next to the chair of the science department; or Shakespeare, English. They were generous, a delight for the curious, and kind.
Unlike Moundsville, this warm, stable Mount community is dependent on a few hundred decent middle-class jobs that won’t get cut if the price of X goes down. It’s no accident that many of this country’s best places to live — with nice restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores and museums, are college towns. (First rule of travel in Appalachia: Coffee follows college.)
We were asked last night about the impact of declining attendance in civic groups, clubs and churches. Those organizations are suffering in Moundsville and around the country, contributing to fraying social ties. (In a future post, I’ll explore the chicken-or-egg question of whether labor force/community or business “comes first”.) I was pleased that the dozen or so students who showed up seemed to pay attention, laughed at the funny lines, and stayed afterwards to chat. Moundsville, I think, can help explain to young people what’s been lost so they can help their parents and grandparents grieve, avoid false nostalgia and utopian fantasies, and build a better future.
John W. Miller