Somebody said once, “Always know where you’re from because you might not always know where you are going.” The older I get, the more sense that makes. I haven’t always been sure of my direction in life so it’s been an anchor of stability to me knowing where I’m from. I can’t imagine not being part of a family and having an identity. That would be like having a tree without the roots. I was fortunate to grow up in a small town, mine just happened to be in the north central part of Missouri. I and my two younger brothers grew up among all the trappings of an idyllic childhood. We went fishing, we rode bikes and horses, climbed trees and fell out of them, and caught frogs. I liked to draw, Andy played the piano, and Tom read books. Dad built us a club house in between working, mom also worked full time…at home resolving crises. I remember many things about growing up, most of them pleasant but all of them a vital part of the thread that gives our lives continuity.
Memories are sort of like all those old photos arranged in disarray in a shoebox. You probably have one too in your home, stuffed full of old photos with frayed edges, probably sitting on the top shelf in the closet. Pulling that cardboard repository of black & white pictures down is much like taking a trip into the past in a time machine. Often we forget we have a box like this until we happen to run across it. Each picture is special and evokes warm memories as they’re pulled out one by one in no particular order to examine them. It’s a part of your life that you almost forget was there tucked away deep in the subconscious of your mind, buried beneath the demands of everyday life.
You don’t realize just how much time has passed until you stop and look back. Then you can only wonder where time went because life, like a river, is always flowing, almost imperceptibly but never static. Drifting along lazily, carried by the currents of time, we fail to realize that the landmarks are constantly changing around us as we drift on until one day we notice that the scenery on the bank has changed. Nothing appears as it used to be.
Here are just a few of the snapshots in the shoebox of my recollections, presented in no certain order, just like you would find them.
You might say that my hometown was on the small side. Small but not insignificant, there is a difference. There are probably more people wandering around aimlessly in the mall closest to you than lived in my entire town. Population of 623, unless of course, you were approaching from the other side of town, then it swelled to 656. Everything in town was accessible by walking. We walked everywhere, to school, to the grocery store. There is something about the place that you grow up in that transcends geography. Dad taught history at the high school, which is how we came from southern Missouri to reside in the North central part of the state.
Memories from an early age remain, like living in the upstairs apartment above Miller’s Hardware on Main Street. Or the time my younger brother, Andy locked mom and I in the storage room. Main Street ran one block straight through downtown and was the epicenter of enterprise in the community. I recall the hardware store, a little cafe, a post office, and at one time we had two grocery stores, one across from the other. They were wonderful affairs with ceiling fans and the smell and creaking sound of wooden floors walked on. One store even had a walk in cooler for the perishable items; a popular place in the summer time. There was a doctor’s office, too. And who could forget Mr. Ware’s barbershop. This was the information exchange center of the metropolis. You could find out the latest news on anything going on in the town. Not always completely factual but certainly more interesting. I think they call it, “artistic license.” All the town notaries made periodic appearances, holding court to their fellow acquaintances. Dignitaries like “Tinker,” an affable and energetic gentleman, or “uncle” Jesse, the eccentric old man who was the unofficial town talebearer. He didn’t just tell the news, he pollinated it, much like a bee going from one flower to another, injecting his own flavor into it. Current events were disseminated along with tidbits from the past, archived from his memory, and retold for every one’s benefit. He was the self appointed chronicler of town history.
Our town had no shortage of memorable characters, one of which lived down the street. We called him the Fire Chief. I suppose he was that before he retired since I never actually saw him put out a fire. Mostly all he did was hunt or fish. Or entertain three wide eyed visitors with his stories. I can’t attest to their validity but they sounded authentic to us. No one would argue that I lacked discernment, but even I, gullible as I was, could detect that he was a bit eccentric. He did seem larger than life in our little mundane world. He was large and brash. Looking back now, he seemed like a caricature of Teddy Roosevelt. Some things added to his mystique. He often wore a handgun in public. He seemed to be an authority on anything you could ask. Or maybe your question was an admission of your ignorance, which meant that he knew more about it than you did or you wouldn’t have asked him in the first place. He certainly had an opinion on everything. He was undeniably an oddity, even professing to be fond of turtle soup. Yep. Our town had no shortage of characters.
Santa’s sleigh was actually an old Plymouth. I know this because I’ve seen Santa, or at least I think it was him. You see, Santa looked a lot like Tirey Patterson. In secret I surmised it really was him. He probably only wore the costume during Christmas so all the kids wouldn’t know who he was and pester him all year for toys. Now the North Pole really wasn’t so far away. Come to think about it, I never saw a polar bear or a penguin there but make no mistake I had been there on more than one occasion. In fact, I have made several pilgrimages. It was in the North though; north of our little town, about ten miles north to be exact. We called it Moberly. Moberly was a huge metropolitan area with a massive population of over 13,000 people. Once a year, about a week before Christmas, Dad would get Tirey to drive us there in his car. Before we ever got to the toy stores, we saw an awesome display of Christmas lights and decorations that only hyped us into a frenzy of Yuletide greed. We went from one department store to the next on our route. We didn’t shop, we plundered. Blackbeard and all his pirate crew never conceived such treasure.
It is a sad fact of life that before you are old enough to appreciate someone, too often they are already gone before you can express it. I can’t remember ever telling him thank you but I think he knew.
A lot has transpired since those days, most of which occurred while I sort of drifted along, propelled by the current of circumstance and chance. While I never could really decide about my future, I have to say that I’m fortunate to have a past.
Many other memories remain and new ones are being made every day. I’m a lot older now but when I go back to that old shoebox, I’m a kid all over again. The one thing I do know is that time is slipping away from right now, whether we realize it or not.
While it’s true that you can’t live in the past, you would be foolish to forget it.