I dropped off my son and his fiancé at Southwest Airlines on the departure ramp at Pittsburgh International Airport bound for Houston, Texas, gave them a hug and sped away cutting down to the Ohio River Blvd. on my way back to my childhood home.
I past relics of my childhood, rusting behemoths of a bygone era that used to belch heat, flame and ash that hung in the air, settled on our clothing, in our ears and down in our lungs. The lifeblood of my community......the steel mills along the river that belonged to American Bridge, Babcock and Wilcox, Jones and Laughlin, US Steel and a variety of smaller upstarts.
My grandfather arrived here from Germany and painted steel bound for places like San Francisco to be used on the Golden Gate Bridge. My father after he returned from Saipan in World War II, married my mother and went to work immediately for J&L Steel where after 30 plus years he was forced into retirement and stripped of most of his pension. My uncles all worked at various mills. All of us cousins went to school together, played together and visited each other every Sunday.
I was headed back to visit my mother and my brother, victim of the 2008 recession, and has now moved back in with mom along with his wife and my niece. She with a teachers degree and no teaching position, lives in the attic. It is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter but it is a place to stay. Healthcare costs takes all my brother can earn monthly at the casino where he deals cards. He has told me of a particular high roller who lost over 12 million last year. He tells me that his Obamacare is just slightly less than that a year. A slight exaggeration but no less impactful.
I have with me a book. It's author was born roughly the same year and lived an amazingly similar life. As I read the book, I realize that my childhood and my community has been a casualty. I realize that my ability to see the effect Rust Belt voters would have on this past election was not particularly scholarly but was simply a reflection of the abandonment of my generation in my time and place. Fully, one half.......roughly six million of us fled the Rust Belt for greener pastures and left behind crumbling infrastructure, increasing crime, a fractured future and a dwindling tax base.
Rust Belt Boy...is a look back through a magic mirror for me. I am wistful, melancholy, and truly mournful over the present but thankful for the memories of a time when families mattered greatly, fathers toted lunch pails and talked only about the future and never about the past. Times when boys lost themselves in play on sandlots, railroad tracks and mounds of scrap metal. Times when grandmothers would cook for entire families, sit around playing cards, speaking immigrant languages and truly thankful they had formed a life in America, leaving the old country behind.
If you want to understand the Trump phenomena......or are just interested in a look back at the industrialization that made this country great, read this book. It was released this year but I found it in my local library. I met the author and it is worth the time. He now lives in New Hampshire.....one of the six million.
I should like to add......I grew up within ten miles of the setting for this book. In it are my roots, my DNA and my past. I never left the Rust Belt, I was a witness to its greatness before the 80s, and I made a career policing amongst the children of blue collar workers and in my last years before retirement I saw the decay of communities. There are remnants of greatness and this book reminds me of how these communities are adapting. I saw the recent election as the remaining six million and their families reached out for vindication of their suffering and justification for return to the greatness of what America meant to them. It is a microcosm but it is full reality to these people. Those who are wholly separate from this .....are having difficulty understanding it.