By Will Lee-Ashley
If one question was on my mind when the events unfolded in Washington, D.C.—as we were ushered out of the Capitol, off the Mall, and as I saw those first images come in on the television—it was how life was going to change in the United States. Talking to residents in Wheatland, Wyo., two weeks after, the answer remains unclear. The rawest of emotions have ebbed, but residents are wondering what will happen next.
Wheatland is a town of just over 3,500. It occupies two exits on Interstate 25, 70 miles north of Cheyenne. It has two implement dealerships, one golf course, and one good place to eat breakfast. It, along with every other small town in America, has visibly expressed its solidarity with the victims of the attacks and our government. Flags fly from farm pickups and patriotic sayings grace billboards. Wheatland two weeks after Sept. 11 is a testament to the fact that life moves ahead.
The flags that flew from every lamppost in town have been taken down, benefit dinners have already been held, and the donation jars passed around. “Those attacks happened so far away that if I am not watching TV, it’s not on my mind,” said Cathy Wilson, an RMFU member-rancher from south of town. “It’s pretty much life as usual as far as our fall work is concerned.”
In the local bakery and at the co-op, discussion of the crisis has supplanted the usual talk of commodity prices. Inevitably, conversations have drifted towards possible retribution for the attacks. The tenor has been cautious. “The bottom line is that we are not against Muslims. We are against terrorists,” said Tom Bramlet, Farmers Union Insurance Agent. “I’m patient. I can wait.”
While one mechanic at the co-op wanted to “bomb the b_____ds,” other residents were more circumspect. “This is against terrorism, not against a country,” said Raymond Clyde, seated in Maria’s Bakery in downtown Wheatland. While the anger seems to have subsided, other more complex thoughts remain.
Even in Wheatland, residents know people who perished or almost perished in the attacks. “The woman who helped raise me, her sister was in one of the towers when it fell,” said Clyde. “She hasn’t been found.”
There is clearly a shared sense of loss among residents of Wheatland—flags and ribbons still adorn trees and vehicles. “You never expect that events like [those] would occur,” said Bramlet. “Here in rural America we worry about it but we don’t dwell on it.”
Indeed, Wheatland’s own sense of security may have been dented ever so slightly but it remains entirely intact. Attacks that managed to kill so many civilians on our soil prove that we, like every other nation, are vulnerable. This has not succeeded in visibly changing the outward behavior of Wheatland residents.
“My whole life I have been living in the middle of all these missiles,” commented Wilson, referring to the nuclear missile silos that have dotted the landscape around her ranch since the Cold War. Who is to say that the threat to Wheatland now is greater than it was during the Cold War?
Sheryl Mosley, general manager of the Wheatland Co-op echoed this position, “Everyone is afraid gas prices are going to go up, otherwise I don’t see a big change coming for business.”
The return of Wheatland residents to their daily routines in the wake of these thoroughly disconcerting events is encouraging. Nonetheless, there is a sense that daily life will not be exactly the same at least for a long while. Perhaps the best gauge of exactly how things are different is in the way people interact with each other. “There are people I’ve passed on the street for years who have never wave,” said Clyde. “Now they do.”