The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, has me mentally revisiting a part of my landscape from forty years ago.
At the time, I lived two counties to the north but was a member of one of three old-style Quaker Meetings in Columbiana County, where the accident took place. So I was down there at least once a week most of the year. The county was a mix of industrial and suburban, especially where it bordered Rust Belt Youngstown, and rural Appalachia along with touches of New England. One corner abutted the Ohio River and West Virginia.
The rail line in the headlines was like those running through a small city where I had worked in another corner of the state, a place I call Prairie Depot in my fiction. And East Palestine itself could be adjacent to the city at the core of my novel, Hometown News.
Churches included Mennonite and Brethren, in the peace tradition, as well as Evangelical Friends at the other end of the Quaker spectrum.
Retracing the terrain via satellite maps, I was struck by how much I’ve forgotten, even parts I had known fondly. Others were pretty gritty, even back then.
From a distance now, it’s like encountering a ghost in a haunted house I thought I’d left behind.