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.