The resistance to accepting change in old communities like Tarentum often seems quaint to a newcomer to the area. A month ago someone who remembered eating at McCool's as a teenager told me about eating there the previous week. I thought I knew all the places people could sit down for lunch in this town, and had to press to learn that the diner I knew as the Homestyle Restaurant had once gone by a different name under other management.
Sometimes talking to people in Tarentum gives a newcomer like me the feeling of being in some kind of twilight zone where the memories of long closed establishments are still an almost visible and palpable reality to many of the locals.
The Trackside Inn was demolished this month. For the benefit of people who will come after me, I decided it would be helpful to share a picture of the place that someday soon the locals probably will refer to as the place "where the Trackside Inn used to be." So if you get directions through town, and you need to know what empty space is the place where the Trackside Inn used to be, now you have a chance of recognizing it.
The demolition has further revealed an old advertising sign painted on the exterior of the adjacent building. No, the sign does not say what it looks like. It is an advertisement for a tobacco product people used to chew called "Honest Scrap." And somewhere down the street is the place where people used to buy it. And in another part of town is the place where the people who used to buy and chew "Honest Scrap" used to work.
A news story this week in the Valley News Dispatch tells about the demolition of a former home in another Valley community. That is the place where over two years ago police found the 11.5 pound body of four-year old Kristen Tatar. Her tiny corpse had been wrapped in plastic and stuffed into a cooler in a shed. The parents who starved her to death are now incarcerated.
During the months that Kristen had been bound and starved, some of the neighbors did not even know there was a little girl in that house. The neighbors feel an understandable need for the house to come down.
Questions remain about how a child in a neighborhood of nice people, and in a home periodically visited by social workers, could have slipped so badly through the cracks in our society's protections for vulnerable children.
I don't believe in haunted houses, not even at Hallowe'en. Nor do I trust that demolition alone can erase bad memories. In addition to facing the hard questions, there is a need to take steps toward building a future in which children will be appreciated and safe.
When we can start talking about a vacant lot as a place where something good will come to be, when we can start talking about that future as if it were an almost visible and palpable reality, that will be hope. Even if it is only glimpsed from afar.