The hiss of the steam iron,
the smell of Niagara spray starch,
radio tuned to Gospel,
sultry weather that even the fan cannot dissipate.
The rhythm of the dance;
shake out, spritz, straighten, iron;
comforts with familiar movement.
Humming with the radio,
thoughts wandering beyond the confines of the kitchen,
chickens clucking softly outside the screen door,
the smell of sweet hay wafting in the window.
Sleepy dogs huff on the porch,
and the sun bears down,
cooking the grass to a crisp brown
and turing the yard hard baked.
Meanwhile, the wrinkled becomes smooth,
yards of white linen
gleam and billow as the sheets are folded
into sharp edged squares.
White shirts hang upon hangers
starched into a military precision.
Dresses of faded calico with knife pleats
so sharp they could cut.
All the while, the steam rises,
curling tendrils of hair
into damp corkscrews,
that caress the face of my mother.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
For me, home is a small rural town named Summer Shade.
It is red clay dirt, the smell of honeysuckle and hay. The calls of mourning doves and whipporwills. The drone of cicadas on a hot June day. Blackberries warm from the sun, fresh off the vine.
It is memories of a magical childhood in a magical place.
Yesterday was the 40th year reunion of my 8th grade class. We grew up together in this small town but went our separate ways in the county high school where we merged with other small town grade schools.
Somehow though we retained a group identity. Several years ago we held our first reunion after a beloved teacher died. We met in the lunchroom where we had shared so many meals and activities.
After that reunion we met a few years later when we learned our grade school was closing and being sold at public auction. One last trip through the halls and classrooms where our values and beliefs were formed. One more time to cement our identity as a group.
Yesterday we met at a nearby park. 21 of us showed up on a steamy sultry June day. We laughed a lot, cried a little and loved each other to childhood and back.
Looking at the middle age people before me, I could see the children with whom I grew up hovering beneath the wrinkles and sun damaged skin. I was shocked as we said "bad words" in front of the one teacher who joined us and who we all still called "Miss Kaye".
We reminisced about first loves and crushes, tricks played on one another and class hijinks. We sat in reverent silence as each talked of our losses. We remembered the classmates and teachers who have died, forever those young boys and strict but loving disciplinarians in our minds and memories.
We hugged upon arrival and again as we felt inclined. We spoke of hot flashes and the rigors of life. Of being middle aged and having children or not, grandchildren or not. Yet beneath all that, we were all 14 again. We are bound together by something deeper than school, closer than a place, stronger than the passing of time. We were a group of friends with ties to childhood. We had shared measles, mumps, puppy love and parents. We had broken rules and suffered consequences together. We had fought with and for each other countless times. And we had loved each other as fiercely as wolves in a pack.
Our childhood was the 1960's and 1970's; a turbulent time in history. War, segregation, political strife was the background of our society. Music and morals were changing. Parents feared that drugs would touch our lives, that war would take the best and brightest and destroy families. We were aware of these events from a distance. We were isolated in our small town before the days of internet and cable and 24/7 news shows. Not everyone had a television, we had party lines for phones and there was no segregation in our school. As someone said yesterday, "None of us had money, we were all poor." But no, we were rich beyond measure. We had a common core of love and community. We all knew each others' parents. We all knew the rules of our society. We all learned integrity from our parents and teachers. And we still have those values ingrained in us to this day.
We are probably the last generation that had a truly innocent and untouched childhood. We were kids and allowed to be children. We played and sang, danced and laughed, jumped rope, skipped rocks, went fishing with our elders. We did our chores, worked the fields, helped at home. We changed from our "store bought" school clothes into our play clothes when we got home.
We all knew what and where Home was.
And we still do.