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A short walk to a long lane

May 14, 2010

My memory and I are close neighbors in a very small town.

I mean it: A few years ago, my husband and I bought a little old house next door to my mother’s, just outside the tiny town that I grew up just outside of. I hadn’t been away that long, and I hadn’t been far.

Every weekday on my way to work, I pass the school I attended all 13 years. I drive by houses I played in at age five and ones I snuck out of at age 15. I drive down streets I walked along, with my sister and our friends, to the small grocery where we used to buy sandwiches and sodas between the school day and the basketball game.

A year ago today on my way home from work, I stopped on the shoulder of the highway and watched a familiar farmhouse burn to the ground. I could remember opening the door, eating in the kitchen, watching Indiana Jones in the living room with two other little girls and my sister while our mom staked tomato plants in a nearby field. I was thinking about the hallway full of cloth scraps – for quilting, maybe? – when I saw the roof fall in.

When we were growing up we lived further out of town, down county roads and a rocky driveway. In my favorite memories there, we’re on summer vacation. We went out armed with duck tape (in case of seed ticks) and picked buckets of blackberries, black raspberries, wineberries, wild strawberries. Two plum trees grew over our roof, and we’d climb up early, before the tin was too hot to sit on, and eat too many plums. But it was never too many.

Sometimes we went fishing. I liked those trips most for the Guy’s potato chips and grape Shasta our Dad bought special for each occasion.

Not every memory is local. When we were little, Mom would pack us into the car and drive to Jonesboro to see Uncle Herbert, who lived in a big Victorian house. I loved falling asleep to the lights and sounds of neighborhood traffic and waking up in a room bright and busy with wallpaper. We all loved walking and riding bikes on sidewalks. Going “around the block” was a novelty. As older kids, we’d get to spend part of each summer with our aunt, uncle, cousins, grandparents in New Jersey and New York.  It really does take a village.

Back at home, my dad would cook dinner outside. Barbecue chicken, a smoked deer hind quarter. One memorable afternoon, we had hot dogs and I ate too many. And it really was too many.

We started the garden every year by planting potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day. By summer there would be corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers. I was most afraid of the electric fence, but what I remember being stung by were spiky green caterpillars that sat on the underside of green bean leaves.

Next to all of these memories, my life as adult seems so recent. I feel like my husband has always been around; our wedding seems distant. But graduate school, work, the house and our son all feel like last year. It all started so fast, our house has changed so often, Jack’s infancy was so fleeting and his growth is such blur that my memory doesn’t take into account the time it took to finish school, work in three different jobs, move through a pregnancy, celebrate three Christmases, demolish and build (and build. and build.).

But Jack’s days are still long. His memory is short, but not too fast. Yesterday, he remembered “sixteen” because it was the number our neighbor had his fingers crossed for on a lottery ticket six weeks ago. He asks for his cousins and grandparents. He talks about the elk he saw mounted on the wall of a grocery store in southeast Oklahoma. I hope when he’s my age that he’ll fondly remember the long, slow moments of childhood. And I love that the small town and dirt roads of my memories will reappear in his.

Read more about memory today at Momalom‘s Five for Ten.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Christine permalink
    May 14, 2010 5:11 pm

    Would you believe…yes, we have this in common too. You won’t believe it, I’m not kidding. It’s almost uncanny. The town that we built our second house in is where I grew up. I’ve lived here all my life (outside of a few short years, that like you weren’t really all that far away). I too drive by the elementary school I went to every day when I drop my boys off at daycare. I have memories of places and people. I walk down the street and I greet people that I’ve known my whole life. I take my kids to activities and I see people who I went to school with, now we come together as parents. That part weirds me out a bit. My mom and dad live just down the road from me, not five minutes.

    I remember the long days of youth. When Saturday and Sundays would stretch on endlessly. I have those memories and I cherish them. I long to reacpture those feelings actually. I suppose I’m doing it for my kids, but it’s never quite the same as an adult is it?

  2. May 14, 2010 5:35 pm

    “And I love that the small town and dirt roads of my memories will reappear in his.” Great ending to a lovely post.

    I envy your small town upbringing – I really do. I’ve lived in big cities all my life, and I really don’t know what it’s like to be close to nature and to neighbors. My daughter is now in a big city with me, and I would like to change that. Unlike you, I want her memories to be different from mine – better.

  3. May 14, 2010 6:10 pm

    Oh, it sounds like you had such a wonderful childhood. What a gift that some of your happy memories will reappear in your children’s memories.
    We live about 15 hours away from where I grew up. My oldest was only 4 when we moved and my daughter wasn’t even born yet. I don’t have much family there (my parents live near us now), but I hope that one day we can take both kids back there to see where I’m from. Where I grew up and have many happy memories. To see the ocean. I think I should start planning!

  4. May 14, 2010 6:46 pm

    Justine beat me to it, but I, too, was going to quote your last line. Absolutely perfect. While many try to run away from where they grew up as fast as they can, you cherish living close to the memories. I love your mind-set. Wonderful memory post!

  5. May 14, 2010 6:58 pm

    I grew up in a country-like setting as well. It wasn’t pure country, my parents just had a huge yard kind of in the middle of nowhere. The town I went to school in was small, as well. There was a lot in your post that I could recognize.

  6. May 14, 2010 7:47 pm

    What I want to say is “This is so lovely, Leslie,” but I write that in every comment here and don’t want to be unoriginal. 🙂

    What really grabbed me in this post is the way in which you made me think about how memories can be associated with objects and places – and how your own memories are shaped (and maybe even tweaked?) by the experience of living so close to where you grew up. I am fascinated by the way some of my childhood memories seem to grow out of and around old photos I’ve seen; I can’t imagine how alive they would feel if I still lived close to home.

    I won’t say that this was so lovely. But it was. Really.

  7. May 14, 2010 8:14 pm

    I’ve lived in my rural-ish town for fifteen years and I find the way my personal history is latched to the landscape and people of the place to be so comforting. I can’t imagine how that is for you living “just outside” where you grew up. You must see your life reflected everywhere you look.
    Beautiful post.

  8. May 14, 2010 10:27 pm

    Your words are beautiful, but the pictures just complete the whole post. How lucky you are to have such vivid memories…memories filled with berry picking and fishing and even stingy-sharp caterpillars. Lovely.

  9. May 15, 2010 12:57 am

    I loved reading about your country childhood 🙂 Thank you for your memories. They make me want to pick up and head your way!

  10. May 15, 2010 2:30 am

    Oh, grape Shasta! Delicious. And it is so easy to eat way too many hot dogs when you’re little. Thanks for taking me on the country roads of your childhood (and Jack’s). I can almost feel the stick of the caterpillar and the dirt from the tomato plants.

  11. May 15, 2010 2:57 am

    I, too, grew up enmeshed in country roads and small sleepy towns. I love it more now than I did then, when all I dreamed of were stoplights and movie theatres and places where people were. There are days, though, that I consider returning to that still-quiet little town — and only for the reasons you so beautifully share. There’s something powerful about the community of memory, and I’d love for my children and I to share that.

  12. May 15, 2010 4:32 am

    Wow! That is so cool that you live next to where you grew up. What memories!

    I think it is a parent’s (a good parent anyway) innate desire for their children to remember the little things of their childhood along with our desire to form great memories. I think that you are doing a great job of this. You love him and it shows.

  13. May 15, 2010 11:11 am

    Lovely post Leslie! Look at you with all these fantastic comments! And those lost two pictures of Jack are ADORABLE!

  14. May 15, 2010 6:54 pm

    By reading about where you grew up and still live, I miss my hometown so much. I miss passing my elementary school and the high school. I lived in Texas all my life and we recently moved out of state. I miss my roots the most. I miss the familiarity of knowing people and places and that feeling of being where you want to be.

    Thanks for sharing. I am so glad your family can share your memories, while making new ones at the same time.

  15. May 15, 2010 7:51 pm

    I also live in the town that I grew up in. It’s so comforting driving by old schools, reliving old memories, friends, past lives. And at the same time, it seems like it happened 15 lifetimes ago. I love living here, raising my family here, and sharing my town with my husband.

  16. May 16, 2010 5:09 am

    I grew up in a small town in Connecticut and although we live far away from it now, I have many friends who stayed close. Some teach at the school that we all attended, and a part of me would love to let me children grow up there. I would love to share those memories of ice skating in front of our middle school and the high school gymnasium. But our home is Virginia. And it will be for a long time.
    But I think that it’s very cool that you are experiencing your home town again. Through new eyes.

  17. May 17, 2010 3:33 am

    This was lovely to read! We also chose to move to a smaller town (uh, hence the name of the blog) because we wanted to recreate a bit of that lifestyle for our children. It’s not one of the places we grew up, but it’s still a pretty nice place to be.

  18. May 17, 2010 7:20 pm

    Grape Shasta Soda. Yes. This is a special occasion beverage to be certain.

    Your words flow with ease. You paint the picture with such precision. I see the barn. I’m there as your mother stakes tomatoes and you hang out.

    I can even feel life passing…and I’m not quite certain how you did this part. But I like it.

    So nice to read you.


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