Harvester Avenue


The great concrete bulk of the building still looms over the street. Its heavy shadows a cool relief from the heat of the sun.

The tracks where trains once flashed by on their way from New York to Chicago are empty, and hidden in weeds. My car bumps across their rails, as I pull down the street.

Across from the old factory, the wrought iron fence of the cemetery continues its centuries long surrender to rust. The factory and the cemetery, surround me like two shores of a river as I drift past.

Three generations of immigrants squeezed into this space between work, and death. Walking up from the South Side every morning, with their exotic meats and slabs of homemade bread, wrapped in wax paper, carried in buckets, and empty tobacco tins.

If I close my eyes, I can see their ghosts in denim, and overalls.

Three blocks away they could already hear the ringing, and pounding from within the echoing halls, a world of steel and stone, turning out reapers and threshers for a nation of farmers.

Knife blades of sunlight slant down from the vents in the roof, and pierce the darkness. They stand at the lathes, and presses, and watch the hours drip like beads of sweat from their brows.

My car rattles over the broken pavement, past the bar where they quenched their thirst after a day inside the dark, and dusty halls. Thick hands, and thicker accents were wetted by the mugs, whose drops of condensation fell like tears onto the sawdust floors.

They are all gone now.

The workers to their humble graves in the Catholic cemetery down the street , the threshers and reapers to rust and weeds, the jobs to places where men and women sacrifice limbs to feed their children.

But the great hulk of the building stands.

Its weather beaten face is scarred by the years, and crumbling around the edges, but its heart is still as hard as granite.

A head stone for a city we used to be.

16 thoughts on “Harvester Avenue

  1. Very well done Tom, but a bit melancholy. Remind me not to nominate you as author for our new “Welcome to Batavia” tourism brochure!

    Really a nice piece though, seriously. You’ve captured (once again)the pain of a lost but glorious past. Glorious might seem an odd choice of word, but to our ancestors who laid the foundation of our beloved hometown, I think they’d find it appropriate.

    By the way – did you hear Pontillos is re-opened on the corner! The Sutherland Clan still refers to it as Tom Pillows – that’s what Maggie called it when she was a toddler and it has stuck in our family ever since.

    • Thanks Jimmy. I know I’m just Mr. Rainbows and Unicorns lately. (always)

      I’ve been following the “Dynasty” like saga of Pontillo’s via “The Batavian”. It makes me glad we never had a family business. It’s hard enough to get along with your siblings when all you share is DNA and a love of Beer. I can’t imagine trying to run a business with them. I think we’d kill each other inside of 6 months.

    • Thanks! I’ve thought about a book, but decided to stick with the “some shit” for the time being. Unless you’re like a publisher or something, then I’m totally up for it.

  2. What is it about a once thriving town fallen on hard times?
    Reminds me of my husbands home turf decline- Scranton Pa.
    Where I grew up we had no industry or jobs to speak of. Everyone was either in real estate, waste management or crime.
    All others commuted into the city for work.
    How often do you get back to your old stomping grounds?
    Anyway, I’m jumping on the PattyPunker bandwagon in telling you to get crackalackin on the book.
    You’ve got descriptive powers most of us only dream of.

    • I have discussed this with many other rust belt children, and I think it’s because we were born and grew up amongst the ruins of the past, that we are imbued with a sense of loss, and impermanence from an early age. I mean, I literally KNEW as a child that everything I looked upon was a lesser version of what had come before.

      I haven’t lived in Batavia in 25 years, and rarely get back there to visit, but the place still haunts my dreams.

      PS – Are these “Descriptive Powers” anything like Superpowers? Because I thought my only superpower was taking the shape of water, or ice formations.

  3. Melancholy, yes, but how else can you feel about the loss of a livelihood and the community stability that depended on it? I’m not surprised that you’ve stirred memories of Scranton, Hoboken, and other places, and I’ll add Albert Lea, MN.
    My dad’s ancestors left Tyre, NY, near Seneca Falls, in the 1840s, presumably because the farmland was all taken and there were too many blacksmiths. We Americans are always on the move from loss to promise.

    Cheri Register

    • I just finished reading “The Journey of Crazy Horse” by Joseph M. Marshall and was struck, as I always am, by the impermanence of place. The Lakota’s loss of their home and way of life, resonated with the loss of home and livelihood in all the places you mention. It makes me wonder what the world will look like 50 years from now. What boom’s will have gone bust? Where will we be going to follow the jobs in 2060?

      1859, 1959, 2059. 100 years can seem like such a long time, yet it is really just the blink of an eye.

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