Monday, October 24, 2016
In my final push to prepare for donation day I decided I had better lift the lid on my cedar chest, one of the first grown-up Christmas gifts my mother gave me. I don't know when I last actually opened the chest, but I can say for certain it hasn't been opened in the 10 years it has sat in my closet where I put it the day I moved into my current home. In the spirit of adventure, I popped the heavy lid to take a look inside, allowing the earthy scent of cedar to waft over me. Pilfering through the contents was like working an archeological dig, each layer like sediment of an era of my life. At the top of the pile were more recent acquisitions like a quilt I had forgotten I owned and my children's baptismal outfits. The next layer were things I wore in the 1990s right before I put on the weight I have carried for 20 years, then further down still were things from days even longer passed. I decided to take everything out and weed through the wreckage, so to speak, all the way to the very bottom. Here a few of the treasures I found long forgotten and locked away enveloped in darkness and fragrant wood.
Because of my shortage of clothes the things I wore were worn often. Then again, I tend to only wear things that are comfortable, so even if I did get something new I probably wouldn't have worn it much if it was scratchy or felt strange on my skin. Polyester was not my friend. Those who have known me the longest will recognize different versions of me here.
These are my oldest pieces; remnants of the childhood I often recollect. The first is the dress I wore for my First Holy Communion. I remember getting dressed on that important, sacramental day. Some girls wore veils, but I wore a halo of flowers around my head. I was supposed to have a special prayer book to carry, but the order never came in. I guess it went by the way of the abacus I was supposed to get in first grade that was lost in the mail as well.
Yes, I was a National Enquirer TV Blooper Spotter and I have the shirt to prove it! I don't remember the TV show I reported, and I certainly don't know why I was reading the National Enquirer at that age. Apparently lots of children reported bloopers because that shirt is child sized.
The bottom two shirts were results of school art projects. The flying initials were screen-printed in the eighth grade, and the other was the result of having too much fun with paint on another project. If my old Sacred Heart Elementary School buddies look closely they will surely find their fingerprints. I wore those two shirts for years. Don't think I didn't hold them up to me to see if I could get them on, because if they still fit I would be wearing one right now.
Sometimes it is good to take out things that are fond reminders of certain events in your life. Enjoy the memories but do not dwell there. It is necessary to find the balance and learn to let go. There is happiness right now that needs to be captured so don't waste time trying to squeeze happiness out of a moment from a lifetime ago. Don't miss the here and now or you'll have nothing to make fond memories for later.
My cedar chest is only half as full as it was, I am proud to say. I let go of many things, but some things are worth keeping and revisiting, like the things here.
There is one more thing I found, and I will just leave it here like an Easter egg that's been left in the weeds and found the following Easter. That's all I have to say about them; they speak loud enough for themselves.
Saturday, October 8, 2016
Most anything can spark a memory; scents, textures, colors, or even a beautiful clear blue-sky day in October. Yesterday I spent my lunch hour with a friend at the Lucky Rabbit, a monthly indoor flea market in downtown Hattiesburg. Our route from work was down W. 4th Street to Main so we had to pass my childhood home street on the way. As we came closer to my street I couldn’t wait to point it out to my friend and claim it as my first home. Funny, because there was a time in my teenage years I would have been embarrassed, maybe even ashamed, for my peers to know where I lived. Today I would empty my bank account to have one more day in that old damp and drafty gray house with my parents and my extended family who also called it home. One more of my mama’s home cooked Sunday dinners and a lazy afternoon on the front porch would be a priceless gift no amount of money could buy.
My friend isn’t very familiar with downtown Hattiesburg so I directed the way. Each block, every turn brought back some childhood memory, and even though I know I sounded like an old, lonely woman facing senility I narrated my memories as we went.
Daddy drove me to school every day, and on the way we stopped at the post office so he could get his office mail. I don’t remember if there was parking in front of the post office or not in those days, but if there was he never used it. He always stopped at the corner on Main Street and walked down the block. In hindsight, and with a better understanding of the man, I now realize it was so he could continue going straight to my school and avoid unnecessary turns. Daddy did not like anything that was unnecessary. Some mornings I walked with him and explored the cold, marble halls of the old building and peeked into the tiny glass windows of the perfectly aligned boxes. Some mornings I waited in the car, or jeep, or truck or whatever he might have driven home from the armory the previous evening. In those days it must have been safe to leave your child alone in a vehicle on Main Street, even if that vehicle did not have doors or a roof. It must have also been safe for your child to be the first one dropped off at school before the doors were opened and she had to sit on the steps and wait for the principal. Surely, or else my father would have never done such things.
Leaving downtown, my friend and I headed west on Hardy Street back to our jobs at the university. We passed the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, Triangle store where my mother shopped for her Lenten seafood suppers, and the old Blue Ribbon Bakery building where we stopped with Granny for French bread on Sunday mornings and rainbow cookies on random days on the way home from school. I always wanted a cupcake but my mother wouldn’t buy me one for fear I would poke my eye out with the plastic stick decoration.
Further up was the cinema where I saw my first film, Alice in Wonderland, the old Winn-Dixie grocery store where my mother would sometimes, but not always, give me pennies to buy gumballs, a.k.a choking hazards. Next to it was the laundromat where my mother bought me Sprites and Bugles and I fished for changed under the vending machines. A little further down on the right is the old Pizza Hut where I ate many meals with high school friends.
My friend needed lunch so we went through the drive-thru at Wendy’s and my mind was back in the 11th grade when going to Wendy’s for chicken sandwiches with mustard and pickles after school and before play practice was like a ritual. Those days of play practice were the highlight of high school for me. Across the street from Wendy’s is the local zoo and park, a place for senior parties, long conversations and first kisses.
Onward west we drove back to the university I attended, the place where I met new, interesting people who were born in places other than my hometown. I met people who made me laugh until I couldn’t breathe, love until my heart ached, and loathe enough to have to ask God for forgiveness; and that was just my first year. My university years taught me more than just fascinating history or how to start a story with a lead. It was then I learned there was life outside of the boundaries of Highway 42 and Interstate 59. I learned how to be an adult and take responsibility for my accomplishments as well as my mistakes. I learned money truly doesn’t grow on trees, but student loans will you send you to wonderful places around the world. It is the same university where I have spent a career introducing generations of burgeoning adults to these same life lessons.
Yesterday’s lunch hour took me through a lifetime of memories and left me with one conclusion. No matter where I am, who I’m with, or what I’m doing, at the core of my soul I am still and will always be that girl from the damp and drafty gray house on Rawls Avenue four lots down from W. 7th Street. That place and those years are what made me who I am today.