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James R. Stout

Collective Cataracts

            A small town in far west Texas was doing well. It was the 1950’s and the area was in the middle of an oil boom. Before long a few hearty souls moved in and started some businesses. There was a small bank, a pharmacy, a general store, a feed store for the cattlemen of the area, two gas stations, a clothing store aimed at supplying the men who either worked cattle or on the oil rigs with the appropriate clothing for their given occupations, a roadside café, and a hardware store. The man who opened the hardware store was in his early 30’s with a wife and three children. They moved to this little town from Ft. Worth in hopes of a better life than what they had in the bigger city. The store itself wasn’t huge, but it was of a decent size. He not only stocked the typical items found in a hardware store, but he also had auto supplies for the big brands of the day. This meant that local residents wouldn’t have to drive a hundred or more miles to get parts for their cars and trucks. The oil boom provided a good living for this man for a dozen years, but after the area drilling was completed the need for full-time employees in the oil fields ended. The man noticed the steady decline in the volume of business that he was receiving. By the mid-60’s the writing was on the wall. Some of the businesses were closing up. The bank closed, one of the gas stations closed, and the pharmacy closed within the same year. Within two years the only businesses still open were this man’s hardware store, the roadside café, and the general store. The town was quickly beginning to look like a ghost town. By 1967 the owner of the general store closed shop and in early 1968 the café closed down.

            One hot and windy day in the summer of 1968 the man sat at his kitchen table and talked with his wife about their situation. The truth was he no longer had enough business to support his family. With much prayer and discussion, the couple decided that they too would have to close up their store and try again in a bigger city. The physical building was not saleable and there was nothing to do but pack his stock and abandon the building. The little town was indeed a ghost town. The man moved his family to San Angelo, Texas and opened a hardware and auto parts store there. It was the end of a dream for the man and his family.

            Meanwhile, the little town received yet another major blow, the death blow, when the Texas Highway Department chose to build a highway that completely bypassed the little town. The existing highway was decommissioned and essentially abandoned by the State in 1971. There was no reason to go to the little town anymore. No businesses were open and there was no need for the county roads to be maintained.

            In some parts of West Texas there are some pretty strong windstorms. There have been reports and claims that a windstorm was so strong and blew the sand and dirt of West Texas so hard that it took the paint off of cars. The old hardware store had been the very picture of a well-maintained business during it’s prime, but time and elements can take their toll. The front of the store had a large plate glass window. When it was built there were items such as a bicycle, large tools, and neatly stacked cans of oil displayed in the storefront window. The store was empty and abandoned by 1970. One of the things the owner had loved to do was stand inside his store and look out the large plate glass window at the people, cars, and workers going about their busy lives. He made it a habit of cleaning that window, inside and out, every week. The area residents had become accustomed to seeing him on a tall step ladder outside scrubbing the window clean. He had the cleanest window in town. But all of that ended when he had to close up shop and move away. Windstorms, an occasional spattering of rain, bugs, and windblown debris started to work on that window.

            Years passed. The man was retired, and his wife had gone to be with the Lord. His children all had children of their own and all lived far away from San Angelo, Texas. It was 2020 and he was 93 years-old. One of his sons came to visit and was surprised when his Dad asked him for a big favor. He asked his son if he would drive him down to the old ghost town and let him see it one more time. The son was glad to do this for his aged father.

            On a Saturday morning, father and son left early to drive down to the ghost town. The man had to carry his walker with him just in case, but he hoped that he would only need his cane. It was a long drive to the little town, but it was a beautiful day outside. They located the old highway and had to go slowly because it had not been maintained for decades. As they approached the little town, they saw that one of the gas stations had been broken into at some point and even the old pumps were missing. The roadside café had collapsed from either age or perhaps a strong windstorm. The windows in the bank were all broken. What vegetation grew in the arid climate had taken over the old general store. It saddened the man to see the condition of the little town. Finally, they drove up to the old hardware store. The first thing the man noticed and remarked about was the front window.

            “It’s like it developed cataracts or something.” The old man said.

            They looked upon the window and the son remembered helping his dad stack oil cans there. It saddened him to see what had become of the building where he spent so much time as a young child. The window wasn’t broken, but it was literally caked in dirt and grime. Splattered bug remains were mixed with the dirt and accumulation of scratches from pebbles and other windblown items. They got out of the car and the old man reached inside his pocket and withdrew a key. He also had asked his son to bring along a can of WD-40 because he suspected what they would find. A couple of squirts of the lubricant and a twist of the key allowed them to open the front door. All of the fixtures were coated in dirt and dust. Lightbulbs no longer legal to buy were still in the overhead lights. They likely would have worked if there had been electricity. The floor was a mess and they left footprints with every step that they took. There was a large pack rat nest in one corner. The old man remembered lifting his youngest child up onto his shoulders and letting her ride around the store on them. He remembered stealing a kiss or two from his wife behind the main counter of the store. As they prepared to leave the old man stood looking out the front window. He could barely see anything through the window because it was so dirty. He leaned on his cane and thought about life. Yes, time had taken its toll on the building. It wasn’t even close to the same as it had been 60 years before. But then, neither was he. He thought about how in a way the story of his little store was the same as the story of America in those 6 decades. Values that had once been precious to Americans had been abandoned like the store. People who looked out their windows in 2020 couldn’t see clearly as though they were looking through a cataract laden vision. The society had been assaulted with windstorms of lies, deceit, and carefully crafted falsehoods and could no longer recognize right from wrong.

            The old man and his son got back in the car and drove back home. It had been a long and tiring day, so the old man was ready for bed when they got home. As he laid in bed before falling asleep, he prayed to God and asked that a change in the hearts of Americans could be given. He prayed for his children and grandchildren and the future that they would be subjected to. Finally, he fell asleep. He dreamed that he was at a funeral and overheard some people talking.

            One man said, “Well, he was old, and his time had come.”

            Another man said, “Yeah, and let’s be honest. He wasn’t useful to society anymore. He was a drain on our resources.”

            A woman said, “He was a nice enough guy, but he was just so out of touch with reality. He believed in God, you didn’t want to talk politics with him because he was so right-wing conservative, and he was at times a bigot given he believed the Bible.”

            The old man was disturbed by this dream, but then he awoke in Heaven.

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