15 September, 2012

Memories and Perspective

I recently received a letter from an Aunt (my Dad's sister) letting me know my cousin sent her a photo that I had on Facebook.  I sent a letter back to her and my Uncle which wandered off into my memories of Dad's hometown.  Dad came from a small town that was typical small town.  There was a noon whistle, an evening whistle, neighbors sat on their front porches in the evening etc.  I loved that town, and still do, but my Smalltown is not the same Smalltown my siblings and cousins remember.  Except for one cousin on Mom's side, I'm the youngest of the family's generation by a considerable margin.  Eight years to be exact.  I grew up hearing stories about family trips to Grandpa and Grandma's for Christmas.  The whole family would be there, shenanigans ensued, inside jokes etc.  I did get to experience that, but I was too young to remember it well.  My memories of those Christmases are just bits and pieces.  What I mainly experienced was day trips.  Once around New Year's Day and usually once during the summer.  Dad took me up there once on a "father and son" trip, which he did for my siblings as well.  I have pretty good memories of that, but again, I was rather young.  Not long after that particular trip, Grandpa was bed-ridden.  He had emphysema, but from what I have heard, he just gave up.  So aside from the spotty Christmas and father/son trip memories, I remember Grandpa as a bed-ridden man who never left his room.  That is the main reason day trips became the norm.  Being a small town my parents had no issues with turning me loose.  In my younger days my brother, Chris, would also be with us and I would wander the town with him.  Chris would take me to the railroad tracks and we would pick up old spikes, sometimes we would go to the "river" which was nothing more than a stream, or maybe we would go to the mill pond which fed the river.  The same route was usually taken to these places and when I was old enough to go out on my own, I usually went to the same places by the same route.  I hadn't been anywhere else despite it being a small town so I never ventured outside what was familiar to me.  As I got into high school Grandpa and Grandma got to the point where the house had to be sold.  I remember a particular trip where Grandma gave me $5 and told me to go get myself some ice cream.  I didn't realize it at the time, but they were getting me out of the house so they could discuss where Grandpa was going to be put, where Grandma would live etc.  I went downtown and got nachos instead of ice cream.  In the process I decided to venture outside of what was familiar.  I went and saw the high school that Mom and Dad attended and then walked a different route back to Grandpa and Grandma's.  It was like seeing a whole new world.  There were spots in that little town where I knew exactly what was on one side of a street, but drew a complete blank as to what was on the other side of the street.  Crazy as it may seem, that's the way it was.  I had one last overnight trip to that wonderful town and that was the weekend when we got everything set up for the auction.  I figured it might be my last opportunity to explore the place I loved so much and I made the most of it.  I visited places I had heard my siblings and cousins talk about, went back to the "usual" places and generally explored the town.  In later years, my siblings and cousins couldn't quite understand how I wasn't able to relate to their stories.  My Smalltown was not the same Smalltown they knew.  When I left that place I figured I would never see it again, but I've been back there three times since.  For Grandpa's funeral, a quick stop when passing nearby during a camping trip and the last time for Grandma's funeral.  After Grandma's funeral, since I drove myself there and had no other obligations that day, I drove around the area a little more.  I went across the river into "Upper Smalltown" and, believe it or not, got lost.  I quickly found my way back to something familiar and then went home.  That was in 2000.  I haven't been back since.  I wrote about all of this in the letter to my Aunt.  My experience with Smalltown is unique compared to the rest of the family.  I also feel that I missed out on a lot of good times because I was so much younger than my siblings.  It's not a bad thing, of course, but I still feel like I'm being left out when we get together and talk about Smalltown.  I can't relate to their experiences, nor they to mine.  It's very strange.  My Uncle (Mom's brother) and Mom paid a visit to Smalltown a few weeks ago.  My Uncle hadn't been to Smalltown since the late 1950's when he was a boy.  The little village had changed so little that he had no problem finding his way around.

This same story can be applied to yet another place.  I have an Aunt and Uncle (now deceased) from Mom's side of the family that live in Tennessee.  Again, most trips were made when I was too young to remember much more than a few highlights.  With the exception of a trip down there two years ago for my Uncle's funeral, I hadn't been there since I was 17.  My Aunt and Uncle had lived on one of the mountains for a long time in a house they had built.  The trip when I was 17 was the last time I saw that house.  When Uncle developed health problems they moved to a nice gated community in town, right on the Tennessee River.  On the trip down for Uncle's funeral, I stayed at a rather nice hotel downtown.  I was on the seventh floor and had a great view of the city and surrounding mountains.  I didn't get to see the old house, but it doesn't matter.  I couldn't have found my way there anyway.  But, staying in the city for that trip, I got to see things I had never seen (or simply don't remember seeing) on previous visits.  I must say, I fell in love with that city. 

It's strange that a group of people, family in my case, can have memories of the same places, but yet those memories are completely different due to passage of time.  More accurately, the memories are the same, it's the perspective that's different.

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