It wouldn’t matter, holiday or not, there’s just something peaceful about pulling into Smalltownville. I actually feel my spirits lift as I get off the interstate and take the “blue highways” * for the last part of my journey to the small town where I grew up.
I took Goodnight to Smalltownville so we could spend the Easter weekend with my mother, Goodnight’s great-grandmother (Gr8). It was the three of us spending time together, preparing meals and washing the dishes together and then sitting around the table for games and chatting. We let the radio run in the background, or the baseball game on TV, but mostly it’s that unassuming time together that families can give each other as a gift.
Goodnight read aloud to me for part of our trip, but once we got closer to Smalltownville, she was not allowed to read or play video games. I always want her to look out the window and see the open spaces and look for things that we don’t get to see on a daily basis: pheasants, wild turkeys, eagles, deer, horses, cattle, sheep, barren fields waiting for spring planting - all lovely and wonderful in their own way.
Ten miles away from Smalltownville, we passed through the little burg where ’Crush’ was born and raised. RIP, Crush. (on my home page search for Crush and read my post about him if you’re curious.) Many of my other high school friends came from that little burg, too. They have a traffic light now. I don’t think it’s for the benefit of those of us passing through, so much as it is for those going down main street, so they don’t have to wait so long for traffic to get from the bank to the hardware store. You know how traffic can be an intrusion that way.
Six miles from Smalltownville we passed the farm where one of my school mates grew up. It’s on the last corner before heading straight to Gr8′s house: around the little twin lakes, past the country garden that makes me envious for the space they have and the wonderful sense of design they put into planning their garden.
Around the last bend in the road, we spotted the Smalltownville water tower. A giant exhale allowed both Goodnight and me to let go of everything for a few days: work, school, chores, homework. Gr8 always watches at the window to spot us as we drive up the hill – one block from her house, my childhood home.
We all attended an Easter service early Sunday morning. The father of one of my grade school play buddies was there. He’s a recent widower and going through a difficult time. I used to play with his daughter at his house. He and his wife let us play in big appliance boxes and make houses from them. That was ages ago, of course, and now he’s sad, but he knows that I’m not that little kid any longer and he was able to let his tears fall as we spoke.
My 7th grade science teacher was there too. I hugged him and got a chance to catch up with him, and introduce him to Goodnight, who is in 7th grade now. She’s getting good grades in science, but doesn’t love it as much as I did. He was a great teacher.
We’re never really alone at Gr8′s house when we’re there for a holiday. My siblings, though far away, take full advantage of technology and text me so I can read their ‘presence’ to Gr8 and Goodnight. And they call, too. With cell phone plans that include unlimited weekend minutes, we all can chat for a long time and make it seems as though we are all together.
Though I’ve grown up and away from Smalltownville, I always appreciate a chance to return. The neighborhood has changed dramatically – not only the hair color of folks I used to know, but who lives in the houses where my friends used to live. It didn’t happen overnight, of course. I moved out decades ago, so I can’t claim surprise at this stage. And yet . . . Smalltownville has had a stability to offer that doesn’t match the suburban life.
It’s still home. There’s a piece of my heart reserved for Smalltownville. Naturally, it has a lot to do with the white house were Gr8 lives, but it’s not only that. It’s the lifestyle, the closeness of things. I never needed to drive a car while I was growing up. I could bike from one end of town to the other in the same amount of time it took to go slowly around my block. I know this for a fact because when I was learning how to ride my bike, I was only allowed to ride around the block and I had to call to my mother each time I came around. Then I graduated to two consecutive blocks because my best friend lived on the next block. That got old, so I would take off in different directions, but keep coming past the house to call to my mother.
Smalltownville hasn’t spread out too much since those days – some – but not much. After our Sunday church service, I took Gr8 and Goodnight for a drive around town. It started out as a quest for Bath Tub Mary – the outdoor shrines people made inside old bath tubs. If you tip one on end, an old porcelain tub can look like a little alcove in an old church where statues stand their silent watch. People want them in their front yards or gardens . . . . so we hunted for Bath Tub Mary. (Google it if you want to see one.)
But . . . there was a Smalltownville street I had never been on. Apparently there still isn’t enough traffic after all these year either, because it isn’t paved. I turned onto the street and followed it as far as we can go. Gr8 said, “Oh that’s where that is!” It was the slaughter-house for the local meat market. The dad of one of my school mates owned the meat market and I never knew there was a slaughterhouse in Smalltownville. Now I know where it is.
It’s not the glamour of the city life, but . . . I’m still a Smalltownville girl at heart. My mother had never been on that street, either.
I supposed by reading this post, one couldn’t necessarily know it was an Easter visit, but, like I said at the beginning of my post, it wouldn’t matter, holiday or not, it’s still home. I know there is the expression that “Home is Where the Heart is.” How true! But I also think Heart is Where the Home is. And part of mine is still in Smalltownville: five blocks wide, twelve blocks long, two churches, seven bars, two banks, a library, two schools, two parks, one really good roller skating hill, a familiar corner house where photographs of me and my siblings hang like museum pieces of bygone days, a slaughterhouse hidden out-of-the-way, and lots of good memories.
I took an extra day off work so I could stay with Gr8 a day longer. It’s gets more and more difficult for me to say good-bye and leave her standing on the stoop waving until my car disappears from view. When I head out of Smalltownville, I wave at her for the full block down the hill and watch her in my mirror. Good-bye Gr8. Goodbye house. Thanks Smalltownville for being so good to my mother and for keeping watch over my memories.
On our trip back home, Goodnight helped me watch for eagles and other creatures again. Less than a mile out of town, I nearly had two wild turkeys to take home for dinner. Luckily I spotted them on the side of the road and saw them try to get airborne. Their girth slowed their take-off and I had to step on the brakes. Both stayed so low that I would have hit them if I had maintained my speed. It’s not the kind of excitement I hope for on any given trip, but that’s life when the countryside reaches the doorstep of Smalltownville.
Twelve eagles later and a detour (over the Spring countryside), a stop at a used book store, and no wild turkeys for dinner, Goodnight and I arrived back home ready to face the coming days. The first thing we did was call Gr8 and let her know we got back safely, told the wild turkey story, and itemized the books we found on the way. It was like we hadn’t left Smalltownville at all . . . . . . . . . almost.
*Blue Highways refers to the book of the same name written by William Least Heat Moon, in which her reffered to the blue lines on a roadmap representing smaller highways off the beaten path