Walking Home

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.

Games

I saw the boardgame Stratego at Woolworths the other day and it brought back a few memories. And I do mean few.

I used to love board games. Growing up, I had at least half the length of the shelf that ran the length of my bedroom closest stacked with them. That would have been at least two games wide and several high. But the thing about games is that you need someone with whom to play them. I never had a lot of friends growing up. I had a chemistry set. And the board games.

So I didn’t get to play Stratego very often. As I moved into my teenage years, I had a few friends from church who were older than me, but we never played Stratego. We played guitars. I got pretty good at it and eventually the Stratego game must have been thrown out. (This must have happened after I moved away to college, as I never threw away anything.) It had probably lost pieces appropriated by my little brother for no known reason, but he always seemed to have bits and bobs of my stuff in his room.

If anyone ever played Stratego with me it was probably my cousin Kyle. He was (and still is, by last count) five years older than me. However, most of the time we played Monopoly. Not out of the box, because Kyle designed his own Monopoly boards. My uncle was a building sub-contractor and Kyle had access to big off-cuts of Formica. He would cut these in rectangles of what must have been about 2 feet by 3 feet. The perimeter of the board would be partitioned into the various properties using masking tape. Names would be created for them and deeds created from the names. The prices of the properties reflected the currency being used, which was always the large denomination money from the Game of Life, rather than the lower value Monopoly cash. I ended up with one of Kyle’s boards as a hand-me-down. I had it for ages.

When I got into college, I had the chance to play another one of the games that during my childhood spent most of the time in the top of my closet. During a brief window of time, my housemates and I played Risk. It is probably the greatest of all male bonding games. Often we would play at the home of another man in the church. His son was just a baby – now that son is serving with the Army in Iraq.

I still look back on this time of my life as one of the happiest. These days it is those college friendships that spend too much time on the shelf. I stay in contact with some – one or two occasionally read this blog – others haven’t been dusted off in ages. Some are undoubtedly missing enough pieces that the only thing left is to look at the box.

It’s when I think of college – that emergence into adulthood – that nostalgia hits the hardest. That’s when I have to go look in the mirror at the lines around my eyes and the reflection of the light off the top of my head to remind me that I’m not 20 anymore. I could also look down at my pot belly or look in on the sleeping faces of my own children upstairs – there’s plenty to remind me if I’m not absorbed in my own thoughts.

When I see the kids I teach just about to make that jump to college and university, I feel both jealous and sad.  They have the opportunity for so many great times ahead. Most of them may not remember much, because their social life is entirely fuelled by alcohol. Lots of alcohol. They don’t know to be jealous of the values with which I was raised and which were reinforced at my college. I am so glad that I never spent one college night drunk and obnoxious. None of the games we played were drinking games.

My children enjoy playing games. I hope they have more friends to play with than I did early on. I hope my son will find someone with whom to play Stratego, Monopoly, and Risk. I’ll try not to be too jealous.