Being back in my hometown for Christmas, I got my hair cut at the barbershop where I often had it cut as a child. My dad had dropped me off there and told me to ring him with the mobile phone that my mother has never used. I decided to walk back to my parents’ house instead.
I grew up in a small town, so it wasn’t that far to walk. I crossed the main street through town to the parking lot of the Dairy Queen, where I first remember having a hamburger. If I remember right, the Jiffy Burger was 19¢ – it was a thin patty with a red sauce and a couple of slices of dill pickle. I remember always looking forward to the day when I could have a Beltbuster, which despite its name, was not that large of a burger, except to a seven-year-old.
Just down from the Dairy Queen is the Presbyterian Church. As a little boy, I didn’t know what to think of Presbyterians, because we were Baptist and it wasn’t clear to me if anyone other than the Baptists were saved. That was until we became Charismatics and all sort of people started coming over to our house for prayer meetings, including the new Presbyterian pastor. One of the few times I was ill as a child, he brought over the Chronicles of Narnia for me to read. I’d never heard of C.S. Lewis. I’ve been a fan ever since.
After the Presbyterian Church, there is a bridge over the only bayou in town. Looking up stream, I could just about see where I took up smoking for a few weeks in the summer after the third grade. I had a friend whose house was at the end of my street and on the bayou and he used to steal his parents cigarettes. They used to buy several cartons at a time, so they never seemed to miss a pack. But like Bill Clinton, I never inhaled – I couldn’t get the hang of it – so this was a quickly passing phase. We also smoked grapevine. I suppose you can smoke a lot of things if you set your mind to it, but I never smoked any of those either.
Just past that was one of the yards I used to cut. It was owned by a lady in our church who had once had massive prescription drug dependencies and an extremely depressed outlook. After a lot of prayer, counselling, and what is called deliverance in the charismatic vernacular, she stopped taking all the pills and was a generally happier person. But like everyone does, she got old and now has Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing home.
Just a couple of houses down from there is where my parents first met just a week shy of 48 years ago. It was my mother’s aunt and uncle’s house then and during my early childhood. About the time I started junior high they sold it and moved to another subdivision. It was bought by some Norwegians who started a travel agency and had a very attractive daughter in my grade, upon who I had a crush and about whom I would eventually write my first song on the guitar. I’m not entirely sure she ever truly acknowledged my existence and I’m very sure she never heard the song. It was a pretty bad song anyway. She’s a friend of a friend on Facebook, so I’ve seen her profile picture. She is still very attractive and married to a captain in the US Navy. She still doesn’t know I exist. The difference is that now I don’t care so much. The Norwegians moved to the next town and the house has been two or three restaurants since.
I turned there, down the short side of one block (blocks in my hometown are decidedly rectangular, with the east/west running side about half as long as the side running north/south) to my street. I probably spent more time playing on this block than anywhere else in my childhood. On the next corner lived the only friend I knew with a trampoline. I was mostly scared of it, but that’s not surprising, because I was mostly scared of everything. I never once did a flip of any kind. I know we did other things besides jump on the trampoline, but that stands out most in my mind.
Across and up my street one house was the Baptist parsonage. When I was in the first and second grade, as best as I can recall, I considered the son of the pastor my best friend. The summer I was in the second grade, he moved back to East Texas, as did his father, so the church called another pastor who only had daughters. One of them was several years older than me, but the other was a school year younger. I never considered her my best friend – but then I don’t know that I considered anyone my best friend at that point – but we spent an awful lot of time together. I saw her in Walmart a couple of days ago, because she was down to see her parents for the holidays, and she even remembered things I didn’t. I guess we stopped playing together sometime before junior high (though we hunted deer on the same lease during high school), but much of those middle elementary years was spent at her house, my house, or the block and a half between them.
It would have mostly been one of the houses, because in between was the hospital where I was born. In those days it was half the size it is now and took up an over-sized block, so the street zig-zagged and ran straight up into our driveway. The front of the hospital faced that displaced street with a semi-circle driveway that was the site of my only ever physical daring do, when I tried to go around it too fast on my bicycle, leaned over too far, and took the skin off my entire knee. Now the hospital takes up both blocks and the street is gone altogether, so I had to walk around the entrance to the emergency room, in front of the spaces for ambulances and the reserved doctor parking to cross the street to the house where I grew up.
So most of my life happened within a few blocks. I know you must be thinking (if you can still think after all this – I’m just glad that you are still reading) what about school and church? The elementary schools I attended were two blocks one way and the junior high was two blocks the other. When my dad’s first church moved out of our house, it moved one block away to a storefront on that main thoroughfare through town. For a couple of years it was ten blocks away, but before I left home, it was about four blocks away.
I’ve lived a lot of places since I left home, but the biggest single chunk of my life was spent in this small town on the Texas coast, within a three or four block radius of where I sit now to write this.