Wait. Maybe I’ve been telling you wrong, trying to add more gravity than I mean. Ghosts, yes. But this town had good people. Simple and solid. Those who were dealt a unjust hand and were still first in line to set out a dinner plate for you. Listen. They lived hard lives and didn’t know any other way but raw hand-to-mouth. They held on through the Dust Bowl, they sank deep in the Depression, but it did not bury them. Not all of them moved away, not if they could stay. The realness of hunger and deprivation and heart-sickness emptied a lot of houses. Some found comfort in their faith, some were just plain stubborn, and they all held to family as tight as they could. They stayed. And they built what they could. Hard, hard work, but they shored up their walls and planted their lean fields. Their hands were grimed but their hearts stayed clean. And when they died, what was left of the town mourned hard. That was life back then.
So what became of Henry Wasson and his hotel broke a lot of spirits. I know there are stories about the man. How he was a drunkard who burned down his damned tavern, then himself, but I think they’re mostly lies. Henry was a drunkard, but a good man. I knew him. He loved his boy more than anything. But stories always build from the lie on up and a lot of people considered him a part of this down’s demise. That’s foolishness. He was a good man, and I’ll carry that with me wherever you want. He was a drunk, but he was not cruel. He did not kill this town. No sir.
Take a look at this empty lot. On a clear night I can still smell the embers. I know it’s only in my head, but I still smell them. The spot is still pitch, it burned so hard. People tried to turn it into a communal garden, but nothing ever took. No geraniums, no daisies, not even witch grass. And no fool was going rebuild it into something worthwhile. So there it sits, as good a symbol of this town as anything. The iron benches in front are rusted to ribbons now. No one ever sat in them, because that would make them accomplices to the deed, or so they thought. So now it’s a place where only the dirt collects, and the phantom smell of smoke hangs like rags.
But never mind, never mind. That story is done.
There’s another one I want to tell you. I’ll warrant you haven’t heard it, because most of the folks who lived here never did. It’s a darker secret than all the midnight burials you may have caught hold of. Those who heard those stories are all gone. All but me.
Walk me over to the Memorial Park – it’s just over on Colborne Street – and I’ll tell you. It’s about a man named Charles Clowe. There was a man with secrets. The darkest secrets you ever heard.
Are you ready? Are you sure? Then pick up your boots and walk slow. I’ll tell you….
Ordinary Handsome available here