Thursday, November 19, 2009

Home Visit

The wayfaring Wilcoxen kids touched base with home this past weekend. As preacher kids, we bounced around quite a bit as children, but we landed in Smiley in 1964 and stayed for 9 years, the longest stretch our father spent as a pastor in any one place. It was a marvelous little place to grow up in--everybody knew everybody else and watched out for each other. I remember the summers best. Long stretches of lazy days to read, go over to the church to practice the piano, walk down to the small public library that had the best collection of Nancy Drew books I ever ran across, or stop in at the little drug store for a large limeade on a hot afternoon. It was small town living at its best and I will be forever grateful it was my fortune to live there as I plodded my way from 4th grade to High School graduation.

David with Coco, Cindy with Mojo on the steps of the First Baptist Church

As I was working at home one day this week, I listened for a few minutes to "The View" as Whoopi Goldberg ruminated post-birthday on what it was like to grow up in the 1960s. (I normally do not watch/listen to "The View". One of these days I swear I'm going to throw something heavy at Elizabeth Hasselbeck. A more perfectly annoying woman I have never known.) Whoopi is only a year younger than me and as I listened to her describe the days of her childhood, I immediately pictured my own in Smiley.

I can't remember a lot of what she said, but there was a part in there about how a kid could disappear at 9am, reappear at supper time, and nobody knew where you were for the entire day and there was no way to get hold of you until you showed up and it was perfectly ok. Back then you were free to explore and go find kids to play with and the main thing was to stay out of your mother's hair. You knew what you were allowed to do, you knew what you were not supposed to do, you knew if you strayed off the allowed path you were going to get punished (and every eye in the community was on you so there was no avoiding the day of judgment - your parents were going to know exactly when and where you fell from grace before you even made it home), you learned to make friends without benefit of social networking groups (what on earth was life like without the Internet?), and you were vibrant with health because you were outside in the fresh air playing instead of inside slumped in a chair staring at electronic displays.

That was growing up in Smiley. I never ever walked anywhere without at least two people stopping to offer a ride to wherever it was I was headed. I never feared walking home from school even in the dark; every house along the way was a place of refuge if needed. So long as I told my mother where I was headed and when I expected to be back and was careful to extract permission if it was going to be necessary to cross "The Highway" that ran through town, I was free to wander the town on foot or bicycle or sometimes roller skates.

I spent many hours sitting in a swing in the front yard, watching the traffic go by the house, waving at most of the cars because I knew just about everyone who drove by. While I sat there, I would sing to myself or read the latest books obtained from the library, and the days were lazy and peaceful. I wish I could grab just a few minutes of that carefree feeling now.

The occasional visit to Smiley reminds me of those great summers growing up. The tree where I spent time sitting in the perfect seat formed by its branches, hidden from view, is gone now. But the long sidewalks around the church, where I biked and roller skated are still there. The drug store closed long ago, but the little grocery just down the street is still there. The library moved from main street to a little house across from the parsonage. I would have been in hog heaven if that had happened while we still lived there. Mrs. Culpepper's house down on the corner is still standing, but the big old dilapidated house that sat kitty-cornered to it across "The Highway" was finally razed and replaced by a bank some years ago. Things change in the little town, but underneath it's still home.

We were in Smiley last Sunday to check on Daddy's grave. We planted some ground cover and some irises and hopefully when we check on it next spring, they will have flourished. It made sense to us to bury him in Smiley. Smiley is home. We will keep coming back and in my mind's eye it will be a lazy, peaceful summer again.

David, Karen & supervisor Mojo work on weeding and planting


1 comment:

RMG said...

Smiley, Newgulf, Sweeny...small towns are the best places to grow up. I can't imagine what life must be like for the inner-city kids. I remember town-wide games of hide and seek on our bicycles during the summer and having to be in our yard before the streetlights came on...