Tuesday, July 10, 2007
I heard an old song today that just carried me back in time. It was something by Johnny Cash, something about a train...its funny I know who the artist is and some of the words to the song but have no idea what it is titled. It first and foremost reminded me of my Dad, who liked to play music really loud on Sundays. Johnny Cash. Willie Nelson. Merle Haggard. Jim Croce. The mental image came to me of the small town where my parents grew up, smack in the middle of the bread basket of the world and a population of something like 200 people. The kind of place that has a bowling alley, a small grocery store, a huge cathedral-like church and about six differnt bars, all lining a brick-laid street. I can still recall going into the bars when we got to go to town, the kind of place that smelled heavily of cigarette smoke and Pabst Blue Ribbon and where sun-grizzled farmers with huge, calloused hands wrapped around their beers listened over the lunch hour to the hog report and weather forecast and talked with one another, the presence of kids in the bar not even an issue. We'd get cans of Mountain Dew and smile shyly at the people who would greet us with "You belong to Marv and Judy, don't you?" as our eyes adjusted to the dim neon lit interior, the buildings and doorways as old as the town itself.... the kind of place where your clan can be identified by your facial features alone, the town gossip confirming your identity because they know you are in town visiting for a week. It was in this kind of place that I learned a "fountain drink" didn't really have a fountain or come from a fountain or anything nearly as wonderful and magical as its name suggested, but was really just a plain old glass of pop with some ice (I learned to opt for the cans, which we could recycle for a dime and then take that to the grocery store and buy candy). The whole place felt like I had walked back in time, so that when I looked down that street, I could see the horse and wagons rattling along on their way to church, could sense the cold bitter winters of the Depression when there was not enough to go around, could smell and hear the 1950s when my parents were teenagers and, judging from the signatures in their yearbooks, a little bit wild...a concept I found fascinating. There was a sense of lineage, of heritage. My father was not a farmer, but this still was a place where I belonged, maybe not a farmer's daughter, but a farmer's granddaughter and one who every spring was made to leave her prissy city life and help slaughter chickens to freeze for the whole family (which meant aunts, uncles and cousins...Mom was the oldest of 7, Dad the oldest of 6), who ever summer helped pick and shuck the corn, watching grandpa toss the popping corn in the air from a basket held in his massive hands after taking it off the cob, letting the wind blow the debris from it so that later we could all dig in and enjoy. He would pop endless batches for us on this old stove in the basement, the scent wafting up from below to mingle with the sounds of raucous laughter from the kitchen where everyone crowded around the table to play cards, gossip and get a little drunk. My childhood is full of the memories of that laughter rising up to the highest floors of the house where I, small and too young to play, lay tucked beneath sunkissed sheets, listening, wondering what the mystery of being grown up might be that made people laugh so hard. I always assumed that comfortable, secure place would be there. I was too young to imagine my grandparents might ever grow old, retire, leave the farm...that I and my cousins would grow and scatter and see one another once every five or more years. That there would be no more family baseball games in the orchard until the sun went down, no more games of Green Ghost after darkness fell. I just knew in my head one day it would be US around that kitchen table laughing with everyone else. Nevermind that we'd never all fit. That just always seemed to work out somehow. Never too little food. Never too little space. It makes me sad now, that world passed away. Grandpa has been gone a long time and the farm is rented to another family. I always felt a bit smug telling my friends about that life. I was so proud of it, though I didn't recognize that emotion then for what it was. I feel it now and remember and long to go back...to the days when my uncles wore mutton chops and there was always a lap I could wiggle into, when the greeting I got when I woke from my nap was so enthusiastic that it embarassed me and I had to screw up my courage to enter the room. When love was not something said, but a life that was lived...lived with hard work, team work, family pride. What an idyllic world it was....and I was too young to know.