For more than a month now I've been operating under the influence of the heaviest bout of nostalgia that's ever settled on my shoulders. It began right after tornadoes hit Joplin, Missouri on May 22nd, and I'm pretty sure it was triggered by televised interviews with tornado victims.
Joplin is only about 70 miles from Springfield, where I lived until I was almost 15, and the speech patterns of those Missouri people just felt "right" to me in some deep part of my soul. People in that part of the country don't have an accent. In fact, I'd say that what stands out about their speech is the lack of an accent: the pure, distinct pronunciation that newscasters across the country strive for.
My sister and I have traveled back there a couple of times in the last 15 years, enough for me to know that it isn't Missouri as it is now that I miss so much. I miss it as it was in the 1950s. I miss the neat houses on our street, each one different from the one next door, all with windows and doors wide open in summer. I miss the slamming of the screen door, the thump of the newspaper hitting the sidewalk, the creak of the porch swing, and Harry Caray's voice on the radio. I miss the smell of fresh corn and ripe tomatoes in my grandpa's garden and of starched laundry hung on the clothesline to dry in the sun. I miss picking up a chalky rock right in the front yard, one just right for drawing a pinkish-orange hopscotch grid on the driveway. There are so many little things, little moments, I wish I could experience one more time.
I remember telling people when I was in my mid-forties that my childhood wasn't an especially happy one, and I know I believed that when I said it. The funny thing is that now, in my late-sixties, I can't remember why I felt that way. Almost every childhood memory I've retained -- and there are many, many, many -- is a good one, good enough for me to feel wistful when I think about it now.
It's a pretty cool thing the way time strains one's life through a happy filter.