Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thoughts of home

It's not the town where I was born.  Nor is it the town where I live now.  But it's where I've spent the most of my days.

None of my family live there anymore.  But it's still the one place I'm more likely to recognized than anywhere else.

I still think of it as home.

There, I'll always be my parents' son, or my sister's older brother.  The kid in the brown smock and pink knit, square-end tie who bagged groceries at the Piggly Wiggly.  The underachiever who frustrated more than one teacher because he cruised through high school finishing sixth in his class rather than daring to stand out by, oh I don't know, actually trying.

There's something reassuring in the knowledge that whether you go off and make it big or whether you never amount to much of anything, in your hometown you're still just you.

I had occasion to visit my hometown a few weeks ago.  The only accountant I've ever used has her office there.

A lot sure has changed in that little town.

To someone only passing through that would probably seem strange to hear.  For it's nothing you would notice at first glance.  Just a lot of little things that only someone who spent a number of years there --  who grew up there -- would see.

The four-way stop has been replaced by a traffic light.  The shopping center once home to the Winn Dixie, a Bargain Town, and the Elmore's five-and-dime now houses a different grocery store, a gym, and an H&R Block.

They've built a new courthouse out on the four-lane.  The old courthouse is just a building now.  It's three stories serving as an unintentional monument of the town square which has changed so much around it.  Thirty years ago, it was still the center of commerce.  And every Friday and Saturday night, there would be a solid line of cars -- teenagers in Trans-Ams and old pickup trucks and Novas -- cruising the square.

I remember when the "new" four-lane was first coming through.  Before it opened, you could go around the orange roadblock signs and drive on the fresh, jet-black pavement.  It's where Dad would take me to practice driving, since you didn't have to worry about traffic.  And I realized he was younger then than I am now...

They finally tore down the old Star Theatre.  It was an old-style art deco theatre with half-moon doors.  And even though it was never open as long as I can remember, seeing its ticket window and big marquee, I always liked to imagine how alive it must have been on some long ago day.  Every so often, there would be talk that somebody was going to open it back up again, but nobody ever did.  

I drove past the spot where the old lumber company used to be.  A few years ago, it burned to the ground.  I knew a fireman who died there.  The obvious void in the landscape seemed fitting for the gaping hole I know he left in the lives of his wife, and children, and grandchildren.

Somewhere around this time, it began to dawn on me how virtually every street in this town held a memory for me.  Almost every building, some significance.

The old Texaco, which is now a used car lot, is where I used to stop every evening on my way to work (under the guise of buying a snack) to see a girl who worked the counter.  She even stopped in to see me at work a couple of times, but I was too naive or unskilled to ever go any further.

That's just a few blocks from the intersection where I killed my Jeep umpteen times one night when I was learning to drive a stick.  We must have sat through at least 5 green lights, me panicking while my baby sister sat in the passenger seat telling me it was going to be OK. She loves recounting that story at family gatherings for some reason.

Just off the square, there's the Western Auto where I once bought a 10-speed.  It was all covered with dust and the tires were flat and I remember thinking they must not sell too many bikes.

Out on the four-lane, now next to the new Walmart, is the church of Christ where I had my sins washed away.  I can still remember the feeling of freedom and purity I felt that day, and the guilt I've felt so many times since.

If you head south, on the outskirts of town, there's the Baptist church which none of us attended, but we sure made good use of their outdoor basketball court.  The goals are no longer there, the church having installed an indoor gym many years ago.  The old court now serves as a parking lot for the church buses.  As I'm writing this, I just now remembered there would sometimes be an older gentleman, probably in his 70's, who would occasionally come and bring a lawn chair and watch our pickup games.  I hadn't thought of that memory in probably twenty years!

A part of me will always be bound to that little town, held fast by so many memories, people and places, a lot of them no longer there anymore.  But I can still see them, in my mind, frozen in time exactly as they were ten, fifteen, twenty-five years ago..

I smiled when I thought about the barber shop where old Mister Albert used to cut my hair.  I never saw him when he wasn't wearing dress pants and a button-down shirt.  Dad and I would both get our haircuts the same day.  I'll always remember the story about Mister Albert having a mild heart attack while cutting someone's hair.  He sat down in a chair for a couple of minutes to rest, then got up and finished the haircut before he would go to the hospital.

It feels like I could go on forever.

Not surprisingly, the accountant asked about my mom.   There, I'll always be my parents' son...  I just had to sign some papers.  We exchanged a bit of small talk and I was on my way.

A lot of times I would have taken a couple minutes to drive by our old house: an unassuming three-bedroom brick on a sleepy little street with a carport, gravel driveway, and a maple tree in the front yard.  It's the last place my parents lived together.

But on this day, I did not.

Maybe I was afraid it had changed and wouldn't be as I remembered it. Maybe I'd seen enough change for one day.

Besides, I can go back there most anytime.

All I have to do is close my eyes.

"Southbound breezes blowin' / This town ain't my home / You can slow me down / But I'm goin' / If I can turn this road I'm on / Southbound..."


  1. Sorry Bone. I'm truly sorry.

    There are so many great lines in this post I can't pick out my favorite one or two.

    This might be one of my three to five favorite Bone posts ever. I guess I love you on Southern town atmosphere

  2. This made me homesick. Perfect.

  3. You made me homesick and I first lived in this town when I was in my early 20s (it wasn't Whiteville NC, was it?). It could also be Pinehurst, NC, but we left there when I was 6 so I never had these kind of feelings and I grew up in a town too big for such experiences. But I have been in many such towns across the South (and even in the North). Good writing, you make me homesick for where ever that might be.

  4. What a lovely post...being an Army brat, I never got to experience this because we moved so much and would never return to the places we once lived. Watching a familiar place evolve into something completely different must be a very bittersweet feeling. You wrote about it so eloquently, as always!

    Thanks so much for the Mother's Day wishes, Bone. :)

  5. Yes, I came from a small town too, when the railroad went around instead of through, and the DuPont plant closed, it about killed the town.
    But I still communicate with a lot of the people there and from there.

  6. Sounds like a nice town and even nicer memories. Your hometown sounds like it was larger than mine, we didn't have a 4-way stop then, nor now. :-)

  7. Although I lived on a farm, my "hometown" was a place where I was neither born, nor do I live now but where I spent most of my time and like you, have so many memories. Thanks for priming my brain to think about my hometown.

    Of all my childhood homes, only the one where I lived from my mid teens to my occasional visits to my parents still stands. In a way, I like that. Driving by the other two houses where I grew up was just depressing because they were so full of memories and yet falling to the ground. Both have long been demolished and burnt and I like the grass and trees that grow there now.

  8. Pia ~ It was not my favorite post. I never could get it to where I was completely happy with it. Reading your comment yesterday made me feel much better, so thank you.

    TC ~ I'm guessing that may be a sarcastic "perfect." Sorry.

    Sage ~ Thanks. I suppose that feeling of home has similarities no matter where you're from.

    Sherri ~ Thank you. It is a bit bittersweet. I mean, you don't really think about it as things change gradually -- a business closes here, a new Walmart there. This trip was the first time it had really hit me just how much was different.

    MarkD ~ No doubt, a single plant closing can just about devastate a small town.

    Cindy ~ Wow, were there any paved roads? :) Did you at least have a gas station that rented movies?

    Ed ~ It's interesting what we come to consider our hometown and which physical house we most remember as home.

  9. Actually no. I should have gone for the full sentence. "The post was perfect. "

    Happy Pappy? ;-)

  10. I loved this post, being as I am a memory person. I love the way it tells us so much about you and your background. And I can understand why you didn't go back to the house - a wise choice, I think.

    And I love this line: "in your hometown you're still just you." I like the idea that there's a version of you still there, caught in that space and time as though it were a photograph. It speaks to the nostalgic romantic in me. :-)

  11. Don't be so hard on yourself. This is very good... as someone I know once told me, 'You've written your heart here, (relax, it's okay)' It's funny, the town I live in now has a Winn Dixie and about 3 miles down the road, there used to be a Piggly Wiggly which became a gym that I worked out in until March when it too closed. I guess it's just part of the experience of living in the South. Although I know you 'true' southerners have contempt for us upstart Floridians referring to ourselves as the 'South'.

  12. I don't have a "hometown" per se since I grew up living all over the world, but occasionally, I do get nostalgic for some of the places I lived.

  13. TC ~ Ah, I probably shouldn't automatically assume sarcasm. Yes, I'm happy. And you get bonus points for a Seinfeld reference.

    J Adamthwaite ~ Thank you. It does seem that way. I ran into a man I used to work with twenty years ago when I was there, and I realized that in my mind I still see him as he was then, not as he is now.

    Jill ~ Although I know you 'true' southerners have contempt for us upstart Floridians referring to ourselves as the 'South'.

    Just so long as you are aware :) Thank you.

    Xinher ~ Interesting perspective. Is where you are now the longest you've lived any one place?

  14. Yes, I've lived in Los Angeles since 1991.

  15. This post has a very 'Rick Bragg' feel to it. I like it.