I first visited Missouri in early June 1977, before my now-husband and I were married. I’ve described that visit—the trip to Fort Osage and the making of gooseberry pie. But what I didn’t say in that post was that I thought his hometown of Marshall, Missouri, was the ugliest town I’d ever seen.
Marshall is the county seat of Saline County, Missouri. Like many county seats in the Midwest, Marshall has a courthouse in the middle of the town square, with retail stores around the square and for a block or so off the square. My father-in-law’s bank, originally named the Farmers Savings Bank before it merged into one after another of larger and larger banks, was on the corner of the town square.
But even in 1977, the Marshall square had gaps in it. Wal-Mart had moved in and drawn a lot of business away from downtown and toward the U.S. Highway 65 bypass.
I tried not to say anything disparaging to my husband or his parents. And, truth be told, there were similar small towns in the deserts of Washington and Oregon that weren’t any better. But I felt sorry for my husband, because he had grown up in such an ugly place.
Over the Fourth of July weekend that year, my husband came to visit me in my hometown, where I was working that summer. Richland, Washington, is on the Columbia River in the middle of the desert. There are a lot of tumbleweeds, and, if not for the Columbia, it would be pretty barren.
My husband-to-be flew into the small airport in Richland and I picked him up. When he got off the plane after flying across the desert, he said, “You poor kid. You mean you grew up here?”
I was quite offended. After all, Richland was better than Marshall. Despite the tumbleweeds, I loved the open spaces around town and the gorgeous sunsets. I loved the wide blue river that cut a green swath through the desert. I saw it with the familiar eyes of childhood.
I’ve since come to know Marshall quite well. The square still has vacant retail spaces, though the storefronts have changed in 35 years. Wal-Mart has moved to a newer, larger location on the by-pass, and is the best place to buy groceries in town. My in-laws built a lovely home on a golf course.
Ugliness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And both perceptions can change over time.
When have you been disappointed by a place you have visited?