Get comfortable, people, because we're going to take the long and winding road to this week's poem.
On Saturday afternoon I decided to head into the countryside to a craft sale I'd never been to before. I wasn't sure exactly where it was, but the community wasn't very big and it wasn't far from where I grew up so I figured I'd find it. But when I reached the hall where I thought it might be, there was no signage and only a couple of cars in the yard. I decided to check another venue on a side road in case the sale was actually there instead, but I still didn't see any signs and by that time I was well along the side road and there was a rather large truck on my back bumper, so I had to keep to the speed limit or risk being flattened and before I knew it I was way out in the country where I went to high school.
And since I was that far along, I thought I'd keep going out to the little community where I grew up. The route I followed was the same route I took home from school on the big yellow bus every day for six years, so as I drove I remembered all the kids who got let off along the way. Eventually I got as far as my old home and a bit further to the church where we were married and then I turned around and drove back to my current home by way of a different country route which we used to take to get to town every Saturday when I was growing up. And so I saw even more homes of more people I knew until I moved away as a university graduate on my own at last.
So I never did make it to the craft sale but that drive certainly stirred up a few memories for me. I recalled my best friend of many years, and realized I need to call her because it's been too long since we've gotten together. I was reminded of the older boy who spent his summers working on the farm across the road from us, and what a gentleman and a hard worker he was, with a great sense of humour. I remembered the poor family whose kids always seemed to be grimy-looking; their parents spent their money on cigarettes and booze and I always felt bad for the kids, but the daughter who was about my age was one of the kindest girls in school. There was the lady who played the organ in church every week; she played at our wedding, too. There was the church itself, the setting of many a potluck dinner and many a community concert, one of which included yours truly on the recorder, and one of which included my brother and three of his friends lip-synching to a Beatles hit, and all of which included fudge for sale at intermission and not a drop of water in the building. There was the empty lot of land where our telephone operator's little house used to stand; my mother gave her a home permanent every so often and the one time that I went with her, I was put in front of the old-timey plug-style switchboard, given a ten-second lesson on how to connect people if the phone rang, and remained sitting there, paralyzed with fear that it actually would ring. (It didn't.) I recalled the live-in housekeeper of the farmer one house down, who kindly welcomed us with cookies and milk, and often a shiny dime, when we knocked on her door, and who looked after my brother and me the time we had chickenpox and my mother was teaching. I remembered the retired nurse who lived two houses down, to whom my mother sent my brother when he stepped on a board with a nail in the end - it flipped up and the nail went into his forehead right above his eye. I saw the empty land where our two-room schoolhouse used to stand, and in my mind I saw the kids playing in the yard at recess.
And mostly I thought about my own family, and the house I grew up in. It was sold a few years after my dad's stroke. It wasn't in great condition to start with and with no one living in it, it was going downhill fast. He sold it to the first buyer who came along, who - as it turned out - didn't have the means to keep it up either. The house is empty now; the flower gardens my mother laboured over with love for years and years are now overrun with scrubby trees and long grass. The vegetable gardens my father put in every year and gave carloads of food from are long gone to grass as well. The garage where my father spent so much of his time tinkering and doing car repairs for the neighbours is falling in.
It was a melancholy way to spend a gray fall afternoon and I was glad to get back to my town and re-surface in the present. Nothing is the same as it was, and I'm not sure I'd even want that. But I wish I could step back in time just for a few minutes, and have the future spread out before me like the full blue sky on an early summer day, and a community of hard-working, kindly neighbours at my back.
After all that, we need a very short poem, don't we? Emphasis on "short."
The people of my childhood
Are frozen in time in my mind
Like black and white photos--
Like a group school picture,
A community baby shower,
A card party,
A Sunday school picnic at the park.
So many are gone now,
Or no longer living.
But, always, they will remain
In a little flame of memory
Burning in my mind's eye.
Thank you for reading. It was a long post, and I appreciate you hanging in there.
There I am!
Question: What kind of community did you grow up in?