This is the Morning Star zinc mine in Rush, Arkansas (now a ghost town). I took a little liberty with Morning Star's history and expanded their mine operation into my fictional town of Brady Hill. The mine that operated in my imagination is similar to this, but a slightly different landscape.
Caleb stopped telling himself the impending gloom he experienced as he rounded the base of Brady Mountain was just his taking notice of the difference between the fast pace of his life in St. Louis and the small town leisure here at home. Over the years he'd even developed a level of comfort with the brooding feeling. There was no denying that Brady Hill had seen better days.
Today was different. This visit different. For so many reasons. He’d come to bid farewell to the woman who’d been his adopted grandmother from the moment he came to Brady Hill as an orphaned six year old boy.
Knowing she was gone, and that her smile and comforting presence -- a presence capable of easing the heaviest of burdens -- wouldn’t greet him once he arrived, only highlighted the glaring state of his home town.
The subtle sinking sensation that usually filled his gut, the almost imperceptible ache from the hollow in his heart, ramped up into full despair as the scene unfolded before him. Four for sale signs on just the first block. Who were they kidding? There’d be no buyers. No one was moving to Brady Hill.
His dad slowed to obey the speed even though there were no other cars on the road. The drive through town became like a slow motion tour, Caleb’s mind remembering what was and trying to reconcile it with what he now saw.
The theater, closed... Dixie’s Café, closed... The building that housed the local paper was all boarded up. The shoe shine chairs in front of the barber shop sat empty and no ladies anxiously lingered in front of the bakery for first dibs on Matilda's sour dough straight from the oven. Even essentials like the clinic and pharmacy were shut down.
Caleb scanned the empty sidewalks through the passenger side window of his father's Oldsmobile. Awnings cast shadows, providing shade from the sun, but only birds took refuge there.
In his mind he heard the echo of once-upon-a-time voices and laughter -- residents stopping to greet and chat, taking time to enjoy one another’s company. Brady Hill’s walkways had knitted the town together house by house, business by business. A person could always count on bumping into a familiar face when out for a stroll.
He'd loved this as a boy, because it usually ended with an invitation to join someone for a piece of pie or cup of hot cocoa, depending upon the weather. He always felt safe, accepted. Able to simply be himself. The fact that he'd come here orphaned and maimed, having lost his arm, hadn't mattered. To the people of Brady Hill, he was just Caleb.
He sighed and exchanged glances with his father, and then turned his attention to the road ahead.
"The quiet is hardest to get used to," his dad said and left it at that.
Caleb only nodded.
Indeed. Of all the signs of decay around him, the silence pressed upon Caleb the hardest. Brady Hill was founded as a mining town. Throughout her life the zinc mine had been her heartbeat -- the single force that gave her existence meaning. The roar and idle of truck engines making their haul through town was a constant and soothing strum.
Caleb strained his ears if only to hear a distant echo, but all was quiet. The mine was closed, the heartbeat stilled.
This town who had raised him, this town he loved; she was dying.