The places we’re from aren’t always where we’re born. The funny thing about reaching “middle age” is the amount of reassessment that goes on. Where we’re from has a tremendous impact on who we become. Not that we can’t change how we turn out, but we will always carry along with us some of where all that coming about took place. I wasn’t born in Rouseville, but I lived there from the time I was eleven until I left for college, and then for good. A recent creative project sent me back to the web for some information on my former home. I’d been a (fairly local) immigrant, and I didn’t know much about this tiny town. Although from only sixteen miles away, I’d never heard of it before moving there. It was a small town of about 900 people.
The home of a smelly Pennzoil refinery, not everyone wanted to stop there on their way through, along route 8. What prompted this post, however, was that web search. According to a recent census, the population of Rouseville is now just over 500. The Pennzoil refinery closed years ago, and my return trips to the area have always been bittersweet. Those teenage years were tough, but formative. Growing up in a town that small you have no connections. You eventually learn that connections are how you get ahead in life and if you ain’t got ‘em, you ain’t got ‘em. Even as I met other Pennsylvanians during college, none of them had heard of Rouseville. The one exception was my advisor who’d recalled a former student from the town.
I’m not certain that it will ever become an actual ghost town—many oil boom towns did back when the petroleum industry began—but it has started on that trail. The last time I visited, the house where I’d lived was gone. The elementary school I’d attended had been razed. The huge refinery was missing. Some of the paved streets had reverted to gravel. Part of my childhood was being erased. Rouseville wasn’t an easy place to live. The nearest bookstore was thirty miles away. You couldn’t buy regular groceries, or ironically, even gas for your car in town. Drug use was rampant and violence wasn’t unheard of. Even so, I know the town will always be part of me. And even if Rouseville never becomes a ghost town proper, there will always be ghosts from there living in my mind.