23 February 2005

harriman and the dream - should we just roll up the streets and say it's over

in browsing the archives of wate news 6 in knoxville this morning, i came across an article from 2003 about a pothole twelve feet wide and ten feet deep on trenton street in harriman. what struck me was a poignant assessment of the situation in the article from harriman resident jerry burgess and the serendipity of my finding the article so close on the heels of my recent posting here about harriman ghosts:

Harriman resident Jerry Burgess said the pothole is symbolic of a city with a budget that's gone awry. 'It's a one horse town. All they need to do is roll up the streets and it's over.'

the larger implication, of course, is that the pothole is symbolic not only of harriman's budget but of the town as a whole - no pun intended. okay, so maybe one was...

but it's all very sad, really, the streets opening up and swallowing all those utopic dreams.

when i get the chance to go home, as i did twice last year, i get out of the ute and wander the streets where my ancestors lived and worked with my camera. i click away with the stunned fascination of one documenting a train wreck in progress. sadly, no amount of designating homes on historic registers or establishing hooray for harriman committees or posting websites extolling the utopic vision of its founders and earliest residents has saved the precipitous decline of the wonderful east tennessee town where i was born.

i work daily at a desk above which hangs a huge copy of the panoramic map of the town stamped 1892 inside a library of congress seal. when i'm stumped or when my eyes just need a break from the computer monitor, i look up and visit those houses where family members lived and raised their children, letting my eyes meander down those streets i love to walk.

oh, i love that map. i love it in part because each house is distinctly rendered, individualized. i can almost walk right up on people's front porches and knock on the door. and i love it in part, too, because i get sucked into what was even in 1892 an idyllic vision of the town. the idyll reminds me of all those dreams family members i haven't even discovered must have had. and not just when they moved into harriman but when they set themselves down to stay there among those smoky hills of east tennessee. when i finally draw my eyes away, i feel more centered, more grounded somehow. and romanticized or not, the harriman on that map is the one i carry with me as i get back to my genealogy research: harriman, my hometown, all circled round by that ancient hump-back walden ridge and the cradling arms of the emory. harriman, a town made of dreams.

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