The Hundredth Meridian


I’d worked in the oil patch for several weeks already when I bought a T-shirt at the J.C. Penney Mother Store in Kemmerer.  The shirt was fire-engine red with black lettering across the chest.  The letters said, “IF YOU HAVE ONLY SIX MONTHS TO LIVE MOVE TO KEMMERER WYOMING.  IT’LL SEEM LIKE A LIFETIME.”  Since then, 24 years have come and gone without my having ever really left the place, though I haven’t lived there since 1997. I wasn’t reared there, but it’s where I grew up.  Maureen sat forward on the bench seat and craned her neck for a first look as the pickup rounded the curve in the banked highway on the south edge of town.  

“It’s pretty!” she exclaimed, in a pleased voice.  “I was afraid I wasn’t going to like it.  I didn’t care for the country we came through around Rock Springs and Green River, at all.”

I felt slightly shocked, though, of course, I agreed with her.  After nearly a quarter of a century, it wasn’t the reaction I was used to hearing.  The last Easterner I could recall whose response to the locale had been appreciative was the late Francis Russell, the historian from Massachusetts, and that was two decades ago.  Ordinarily, my response to the philistine’s inability to recognize the ethereal when it slaps him in the face is relief (he won’t...

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