A severe case of nostalgia settled over me a couple of weeks ago, and I haven't been able to shake it. Not that I've really tried. I suppose you could even say I've wallowed in it.
Aided by the magic of the Internet, I've toured the college campus across the street from the home where I grew up and "visited" some of the neighbors I remember from way back then.
This is a photo of my little sister and me, standing on either side of our maternal grandparents near the front steps of their Missouri home:
This was the home that provided security and stability for us throughout our young lives, the home we'd be leaving the next day to begin a new life in Texas with our mother and brand-new stepfather.
I look at this photo and I can smell the flowers that Mammaw planted in the dark-green, wooden flower boxes. I can feel the roughness of the stones as well as if my fingers touched them today. In the background I see the homes of neighbors, and I begin a mental walk westward down the block.
Right next door to us lived the Buzans, Hattie and Cecil, a friendly couple about the age of my grandparents. They rented an apartment in their home to Mrs. Anderson, grandmother of my school friend, Sarah, and another room one summer to a South American exchange student, Suzanne, whom we admired for her beauty and her foreign accent, the first one we'd ever heard.
The next house was a smaller one, home of a playmate, Nina Ruth Brown. Nina Ruth's mother had severe arthritis. Walking was difficult if not impossible for her, and she didn't have a wheelchair. She spent her days in a straight-backed chair, bouncing and jiggling it, inch by inch, to move through her house.
Two families lived in the next house during the time we lived on that street. First was the Maness (Mayness?) family, which included my good friend, Carolyn Sue, whose daddy was a minister.
I'm on the left in the photo, the curly-permed girl in the skimpy sunsuit, and Carolyn Sue's the pretty girl in the modest dress. The boy on the bike is my uncle, Joe, who gained a good friend after the Manesses moved out and Jimmy Wheelis moved in with his aunt, Annette, a beautician.
The next house, a tall, two-storied one with a peaked roof, belonged to the Fullers. They were a super-nice couple who always seemed to be apologizing for their darling-but-snarling chihuahua, Susie. It was Mr. Fuller who accidentally shot my sister one day. He was shooting at a pesky squirrel in a tree in his yard, but the bullet hit a branch and ricocheted four houses up the block to our backyard, where it struck my sister in the neck. The force of the bullet had dissipated enough that it didn't break the skin, but it did give my sister a nasty sting and a big welt on her neck. I remember Mr. Fuller bringing my sister a present (a box of candy, I think), which made me wonder why I couldn't have been lucky enough to have been shot.
The Rice family lived on the other side of the Fullers. The Rices had a beautiful daughter, Beverly, who was much older than we were but always very nice to us. In fact, the whole family was nice, despite the fact that my sister and I always attempted to steal a piece of their house when we visited. The exterior of their home was covered with a grey, mortar-like substance that was embedded every half-inch or so with bright, multi-colored bits of glass. It was my habit to knock on their door with my left hand, while my right hand, furiously but unsuccessfully, tried to dislodge at least one sparkling gem.
Next came the Stinsons. I don't remember much about them except that they, too, were very pleasant and that their grey hair made me think they were the oldest homeowners west of us on the block.
There was one more house past the Stinsons, but I never knew who lived there and don't remember ever going to their door, even for Trick or Treat. They had a screened-in porch made almost invisible by tall bushes that grew in front of it, and there always seemed to be a lot of college-aged kids hanging out on the porch. Maybe it was a boarding house of some sort.
Next up was a single-story, flat-roofed building that housed three small businesses. Annette's Beauty Shop, operated by our neighbor, Annette Wheelis, was first. I got a perm there once, an event I probably wouldn't remember except for a slightly embarrassing moment. I was under the hair dryer, reading a comic book and singing softly (I thought) to myself. A tap on the shoulder alerted me to look up, and I saw a shop full of ladies laughing and looking in my direction. Apparently, I'd been singing much louder than I'd intended and didn't realize it because of the noise of the hair dryer.
Next to Annette's was Frank's Market. Frank Scroggs was the neighborhood butcher. He was the father of my classmate, another Suzanne. This Suzanne had dark eyes and long, black, curly hair. She wore two big bows in her hair each day, positioned one on each side of her forehead so that they reminded me of a favorite comic strip character, Little Lulu. Suzanne's mother was always dressed "fancy," in my youthful opinion, as if she had important places to go, and I assume it was her doing that the family sometimes wore matching outfits, dresses and shirt all made of the same fabric.
At the end of the block, on the corner near the mailbox, was Parson's Drugstore, where comic books sold for ten cents each and the soda fountain beckoned with cherry phosphates and multiple flavors of ice cream cones. Parson's was one of my favorite places in the world.
This post has grown much longer than I intended it to be, and I don't know how many of you readers have chosen to accompany me all the way to the end of the block. I do know my sister will walk with me every step of the way along the sidewalk we traveled so many times together that is no longer there, beside houses that have long since been demolished to provide space for college expansion.
My sister and I have visited that patch of earth together in recent years and stepped out onto the ground where we used to play. Even as I saw the tennis courts that are there now, I looked right through them. In my mind, in my heart, I 'll always see well-tended houses, beautiful trees, smiling neighbors. I'll always see home.