Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Time and Place

I put my homecity in the rearview mirror right after college and until recently, I never looked back. It wasn't a town but a mini-city and one with a identity crisis, small town in feel but metropolitan enough to be classified as a city. I discovered the reason it seemed like Mayberry when I went back recently. My tour consisted of the street where I grew up and a few other parallel and perpendicular ones that must look like tossed pickup sticks from the air. All life took place in these congested and crossed streets and alleys.

An artist friend once told me that there are always people who create art and bliss for others and there are always those who enjoy the art and bliss others create. And so it was in our little city, where each year the Chamber of Commerce made Santa Claus drive down Main St. in a fire truck the week before Christmas and the ancient Miss Elderkin held free ballroom dance lessons for children every winter on Friday nights at the Congregational Church. I marvel at the sentimental memories I've read on my homecity’s Facebook page since my visit home.

Many from the group mention the quirky old water tank on stilts that sits high above the city like a huge alien from another world. We talk about Miss Elderkin and her piano player, the agony of waiting to be asked to dance or the agony of asking only to be turned down. The discussions are about whose parent worked at which shoe factory, what happened to so and so, and when did Starbucks go in near where the A&P use to be. It's banal and boring and I love it.

Living within a stone's throw of the sea now, I don't think I could ever go back to being landlocked.  I use to pity my homecity, although only an hour from salt water, and cannot now imagine being deprived of the ocean every day.  But I've learned it has a place in my heart because of all the dear things it did for me when I lived there. The fact that people looked out for each other, that there was no shortage of adults to tell me what to do, the natural beauty that was kept unspoiled for our pleasure. This meant skating ponds in winter, hills for sledding and for rolling down with pocketful’s of milk pods waiting to be opened and spread like germs on crisp fall days. We talk about the shoe outlets in the factories where the smell of leather enticed us as we put our feet in practically free shoes. One classmate on Facebook lamented how much he missed the crabapples which fell to the ground in nearly every yard and park, a reminder of the city's pastoral past when it was mostly a place of orchards and farms.

I am amazed at how tender my feelings are for this seemingly ordinary little place, how I wish I could go back for just one day and walk "upstreet" to the bookstore and the Rexall. I want to get dust on my shoes at the grammar school where we trudged outside every Flag Day to sing God Bless America as loud and proud as we could. I want to hear Miss Reilly from her front porch tell me not to walk near her boxwood hedges on my way to school. I want to open one of those milk pods and watch the fluffy white stars sail down an untouched hill until they can't be seen anymore.

For now, I will be at rapt attention online when my old neighbors and friends start waxing poetic about the long departed dentist who gave out colorful animal shaped erasers, the kind yet firm school principal we adored, and especially, when the subject turns to an outlandish looking water tank on skeletal legs that I know will stand in silent greeting whenever I can make it home again. 

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post, Donna!!! So lovely in every way. This is delightful; I'm so glad you shared this memoir of what sounds a marvelously typicaly small town. Thanks!