Last night of summer
highway hum and jets muffle
the coyote’s cry.
The old hometown seems
smaller than I remember.
Once, it was magic.
For Van Morrison, it was Cyprus Avenue in his hometown of Belfast. The fancy, tree-lined street where the upper class lived. Where a working-class boy went to dream and catch glimpses of aspirational girlfriends.
In my hometown, that street was Eastwood. It was a shady, tree-lined street with what passed for mansions in my little Missouri farm town of Marshall. And there here were even a couple honest-to-Pete mansions among them. Reminders of old money abounded.
To a Johnny-come-lately, working-class kid like myself, it seemed like the coolest place on earth. I lived on the other side of town. Not in the poorest section, but definitely in a different layer. My house was brand new, but it was a plain 1950s ranch house. Utilitarian and homely. Decorated in the finest Late Depression.
At first I didn’t have any friends among the Eastwood society. Unattainable, I thought. But when all of the grade school kids graduated to junior high, we were suddenly thrown together.
I became buddies with an Eastwood kid, Clyde, who, while he didn’t live right on Eastwood, lived close enough — a long block off of it.
His home was a demonstration of exquisite interior decorating, and his family a wonder of graciousness and hospitality. I felt lucky to have such a cool friend.
We played football, we raced slot cars, and talked about our growing interest in girls. I heard Sgt. Pepper’s for the first time in his basement.
When my cat didn’t come home and was eventually found struck to death by a car, I went to Clyde’s to play basketball. I played so furiously that I eventually egged him into our only physical fight.
Because that’s how 12 year old boys grieve.
In those days of flower power and Vietnam, we did find ways to wage a few political protests, and fight against what we saw was hidebound traditions at our high school.
We eventually began to drift our separate ways, spending more time with girls than with our old guy friends.
One evening, late in our high school years, we sat around a campfire out at the park, vaguely aware that our sheltered years in our old hometown were drawing to a close. Our oh-so-enlightened conversation including a one-through-10 ranking of our female classmates.
If I remember, we did try to maintain a sense of irony about it.
The photo atop this little poem is a recent shot of Clyde’s old house.
The old hometown is aging, as am I,
The once wide streets grow narrow with the years,
As night descends, you all but hear a sigh,
For what once was has gone, and twilight nears.
Now friends and kinsmen number fewer, too,
And memories fade like the painted sign
Proclaiming that the city “Welcomes You!”
Strange how one’s soul and place so intertwine.
Life used to bustle round our stately square
‘Til commerce shifted to the edge of town.
The grand facades are now much worse for wear,
Some landmarks have been torn completely down.
The business of my life took me elsewhere,
Cracks grew in walkways of both man and town.
Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but last year I made a couple of trips back to my childhood hometown. My high school class held a reunion, and there was the lingering matter of tidying up my late parents’ estate, which seemed like it would never get resolved.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing my old classmates, and re-igniting long dormant memories. But, not all my classmates are doing well. Not all of them made it back. Not all are still alive.
The visits led to reflection, and that led to poetry.