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Country Roads, Take Me Home
Yesterday, feeling a bit nostalgic, I decided to go for a drive out in the country. I wanted to visit some of the places I had known and loved as a boy. The word “nostalgia” as we know it was first used by Homer to capture the feeling Odysseus felt as he desired to return home from Troy, that bittersweet pain of longing for home. And despite what Thomas Wolfe said, I believe that through the power of story and memory, we can go home again.
As I drove down gravel roads I had walked as a boy, I was able to piece together the remains of threadbare memories worn and tattered by time. And even though many of the sites were overgrown with brush or replaced by new edifices, I was able to call forth earlier years, and watch a parade of ghostly memories march in step around the monuments of my past.
I saw the old, dilapidated barns where I had hunted rats as a kid, where I smoked my first cigarette, and where I stole my first kiss from an unsuspecting (but unperturbed) girl. I passed Uncle Jim’s empty cow pasture that I once set ablaze on a Christmas morning long ago thanks to a mishap with a Jumping Jack firecracker.
I drove by the old house that belonged to Preacher Peters, the eccentric parson who married my parents in the living room of my grandfather’s home. Preacher Peters is gone now, but I saw what remained of the old, hand-painted sign that once stood in his front yard. It’s just a worn bit of wood now, but it once proclaimed in stark red letters, “Fresh eggs. 25 Cents. Sinners go to hell! Get saved, or else!”
I rode on over to the crossroads where my great grandparents used to run a country store. I could see myself as a towheaded five year old boy sitting on an upturned milk crate, eating spicy pork rinds until snot dripped off the end of my chin. And I could still see the weathered, ruddy face of Mr. Townsend, a pitiful old drunk, who came in once a day to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola and a bottle of Dr. Tichenor’s antiseptic which he would mix to maintain his buzz. The building is gone now. A shade tree mechanic operates a little garage on the lot. But I could still see it all as clear as day.
Since it was only about a mile from the site of the store, I decided to go see what was left of mamma’s old house. I didn’t expect to find much. It wasn’t very sturdy in its best days. Just a three-room, ramshackle hovel, held together with yellow paint and God’s own pity.
But it is just a vacant lot now. It looks like someone had attempted to occupy the place in the intervening years, but apparently gave up. I don’t blame them. I’m sure there is enough bad energy there to sour the ground
Ican only recall one happy memory at that place. My mother’s mother, a rotund Choctaw woman named Betty, taught us that the best way to find out if spaghetti noodles were ready to eat was to take one or two out of the pot and sling them against the wall behind the stove. If they stuck, they were done. That was great fun. But the pasta throwing came to a sudden halt a short time later when my mother’s father commenced beating her and my aunt in a drunken rage. Mamaw Betty ended the row by shooting him nine times with a .22 rifle.
My last memory of the place was Sheriff Robinson showing up and telling my Mamaw that he understood that she did what she had to do, but that he thought it was best if she moved on back to the Choctaw Nation. Which she did. That day.
Those kinds of recollections are heavy, so I decided to chase it with something a little lighter. I drove over to the Sunset Drive-in and Roller Rink. Built in the 60’s, Sunset was the hot spot in town when I was coming up in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s where I learned to skate and where I first watched Field of Dreams. But it is only a shambles now. People get their movies from the RedBox in front of the Dollar General these days. Another testament to progress I suppose.
Before heading home, I decided to make a few final stops to visit some folks I hadn’t seen in a while. I rode over to Mount Zion Methodist Church. That’s where my great grandpa was baptized, and where most of his family still resides, waiting for the resurrection.
I spent a few minutes talking to Danny Hill. Thanking him for teaching me how to shoot a bow and arrow, and for scaring me away from motorcycles for good.
I talked a minute or two with Miss Effie Lou, the dazzling white-haired woman who used to get the whole church on their feet shouting when she lit into her unique rendition of “I’ll Meet You in the Morning.” A song that, no doubt, held extra potency when the ninety-some-odd year old woman sang because we all knew she had buried every member of her family and was indeed ready to see them again.
Then I stopped by Egypt Missionary Baptist Church to spend a little time with the other side of the family. I made my way to my grandfather’s final resting place. I did not attend his funeral. Perhaps this was wrong, but he never attended a single ball game, or concert in which I played, or any other event in which I was involved. He remarried when I was a toddler and I suppose he decided to make the other woman’s family his own, discarding me along with the earlier family pictures that once hung on his walls.
Even so, he was my Papa, and I wanted to see the place where he lay. And when I did, I caught myself laughing out loud. For decades, he had been engaged in a running feud with his neighbor, Jackie. They hated each other. Dad told me that Papa had threatened to move several times because he couldn’t stand the idea of living another day beside Jackie. So it was with some relish that I noted that when Papa was buried, they put him in a hole right beside Jackie Davidson.
You might be tempted to think that I was melancholy after spending an afternoon among tombstones and the ruins of my childhood. But you would be mistaken. As I drove back through the woods and hollers, I was reminded of where I came from. Of who I am. And that while the past, like other ghosts still haunts us, the future is occupied by the living. The truth is that we can go home again. And I did, but to a home informed and shaped by memories, not crippled by them.