Thoughts on a photo

This photo was taken by Larry Dodd in the small hamlet of Horntown, Virginia.

I didn’t take this photo, my friend Larry Dodd did (and thanks to him for sharing.) But I could have.

I have no idea who owns the house trailer or the tricked-out Hummer, but I have seen both in my travels. My job takes me through the small hamlet of Horntown, Virginia on a weekly basis because I cut through there on my way to Chincoteague. Yet it got me to thinking that the photo reinforces a point I’ve made in the past (and present, as you’ll see later.)

If one were to do a photo essay about the death of rural America, Horntown could be a poster child. The unincorporated Accomack County community is in one of the rare parts of Virginia that’s losing population. Abandoned houses, which in several cases are falling down, line up along the town’s main thoroughfare, Fleming Road. The center of town, which also features a trailer park advertising Section 8 acceptance, is a stark contrast to upscale housing developments just outside the town or the large farms on the south end of the village. If memory serves me correctly the only businesses within Horntown are a day care center and the post office – a failed service station sits abandoned with brush growing inside thanks to the lack of a roof or windows – at the opposite corner of the post office. If you want groceries or gas it’s necessary to travel over to Oak Hall or New Church, each about 10 minutes or so away.

But there in Horntown sits this house trailer, which the owner thoughtfully remodeled with a sloped roof. One could call it a redneck home improvement but if it makes the place look more like home, so be it. The adult-sized bicycle on the porch is a nice touch as well, since it’s quite possible the Hummer has to sit at times because its owner can’t afford the gas to put in the truck.

Now this essay isn’t about the decline of rural America, although it could be. What got me to thinking about the point I’m making here are the priorities shown.

I’ll admit I’m not down with the ins and outs of what some might call “pimping out my ride.” (The vernacular may be so ten years ago, but I don’t make an effort to keep up with that. It’s hard for me to stay within 140 characters for Twitter, let alone track dialect.) But I am very, very sure that Hummers – which were derived from a military vehicle designed for less-than-optimum travel conditions – didn’t come from GM with 30-inch rims, color-keyed to the rest of the car, or a chrome step for that matter. (I believe the bright yellow color was standard, though.) And something tells me that if the car was traveling along the road I would hear the thump of the bass before I ever saw it.

It would be my guess, then, that the cost of the aftermarket improvements on the car might be gaining on the worth of the car itself. Meanwhile, the car just might be worth more than the trailer it sits in front of.

Now I realize this is America, and people are still free to spend their money however they please (once they pay off Uncle Sam.) But I have to question the judgement of someone who prioritizes their spending in such a manner. I realize there may be a perfectly good explanation for all this, but the reason I felt confident in making some of these assumptions is that I’ve seen the Hummer several times at that address. Granted, it was only after I saw Larry’s picture that I paid better attention as I drove through Horntown – but sure enough, it was there the other morning as I passed through.

This all got me to thinking about a chapter I did in my book, So We May Breathe Free. In one chapter I wrote the following:

It’s been tempered to an extent by the recessionary period of the last few years, but to many in our nation it’s still all about our possessions, a mantra best expressed in the saying “he who dies with the most toys wins.” And while I aspire like most others to be at least financially comfortable, to me it’s more about life’s experiences. There were points in my life where I could afford a larger house and more expensive car, but I knew that which I had was just fine and suited my purposes. I had more important goals in life to pursue, and even though they’ve changed over the years the sentiment still remains with me. If you read nothing else in this chapter I want to make the point that, once the economy comes back, people need to spend less time and worry on acquiring stuff and more time on what’s important, like being part of their community. Live within your means and outside your shell.

If this person wanted to draw attention to himself by having the bright yellow Hummer out front, well, it worked. But what do you really think about that – does that truck impress you in any shape, manner, or form? I’m not impressed, and the reaction I saw to Larry’s original posting of the picture was more along the lines of people shaking their heads in disbelief or condemning the system which they believed was handing out goodies to the Hummer owner. In defense of this unknown person, it very well could be they hold down a job at one of the local chicken plants or may be support staff for Wallops Island. But this unknown Horntown denizen lends himself to a perception that certain people don’t think about tomorrow when they purchase items without great utility but simply based on the styles of today, and wonder why they remain poor.

Then again, that which is piped through the satellite dish on the roof may have something to do with it.

Somewhere in the middle, between the six-bedroom McMansions that line the streets of the nearby Corbin Hall development and the row of trailers and houses in Horntown which have all seen better days, may lie the answer. I’ve never had an issue with those who have the means to purchase large homes aside from wondering why one voluntarily signs up for so much cleaning and upkeep, but I believe we have a system where those who want to pull their Horntown community up can do so through hard work and keeping an eye on the future. Why should those kids in the day care see squalor when we can do better if we get our priorities straight?

One thought on “Thoughts on a photo”

  1. What is missing from the picture is the nice Corvette that also used to sit in front of the same trailer but burned up about 6 weeks ago. Also, the McMansions in Corbin Hall & Olde Mill (the development south of Horntown) number about 8 – 10 combined. The lots were grossly overpriced and when the market died, the prices were cut drastically. However, not too many are buying overpriced lots in empty developments in Horntown.

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