Writing Assignment: “I am from…”
Sitting in the heavy, big city traffic, I look off to the remarkably un-mountainous horizon in the direction of Carrowinds, a theme park I often visited as a child. The colossal DNA of skyscrapers, draped carelessly across the landscape, are stark against the late afternoon sky. Great metal strands support impossibly high and bizarre hills and loops. They are otherworldly, space age Jetson-like, especially compared to how I remember rollercoasters. I lumber along this strange territory in an automobile heard comprised mostly of the inaccurately named ‘mini’ vans that dwarf my tiny, ancient four door car. En masse, we turn a curve and I see the rollercoaster of my childhood: Thunder Road. A dinosaur, big and dense by comparison to the soaring arches of 21st century coasterdom. It is an old wooden lady with soft curves, once fierce and intimidating, now almost nostalgic.
I feel old and alien and I do not think I belong here anymore.
This is my home town, though town seems a small, cramped word for this place now. I grew up here, in the walkways of Carrowinds, in the front lawn of the Presbyterian Church under the great Magnolia tree, by the enormous honeysuckle bush where I waited for the school bus. In the hallway of this school I sat and read Ray Bradbury short stories to my friend and fell in love with science fiction. In this grocery store I learned a lifetime’s worth of gossip and tall tales. Here is where there was once a Chinese restaurant where I would go to dinner with my mother at least once a week. Here, next door, is where the drug store was. I worked there when I was in college and I remember the day my mom’s best friend came to pick me up from work just after my father died. I was shelving shampoo.
There is the place that used to be a nightclub with big plate glass windows. Once, someone’s bull got loose and ended up in that parking lot, convinced another arrogant bull was taunting and staring at him from inside the club. We listened to the whole thing on the scanner and heard the police shout out, “ride ‘em cowboy!” and laugh at one another until they couldn’t breathe.
This was once a field and that was always just the woods along this road. A farmer used to plant corn over there on the corner and you always knew it was summer when you couldn’t see the cars at the intersection for their great, tasseled stalks.
Up on that hill there was a huge tree, probably one of the biggest I’ve ever seen, at least as I look up into it now inside my memory and it seems a giant green universe unto itself. It was in front of my 5th grade math teacher’s house. She was also the Sunday school teacher who taught me the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed and Ten Commandments.
I do not belong here anymore. As I look at new apartments and housing developments, I remember great grass fields, trees, less traffic, air that was easier to breathe. I walk through a bookstore that stands right about where that bull and his reflective adversary once challenged each other and later, I will push a grocery cart through what was once the dense, dark woods filled with pine and oak and soft earth made from the uncountable seasons’ shedding of needle and leaf that began long before white people stepped into this county for the first time. It is all different. There are new people here. There is new life, new feet running through Carrowinds, and new faces gawking at rollercoasters scraping the sky. New families, new shops. It is all alive in a new way.
It is not bad, this new alive in the place that was once my home town. But it is not the place where I belong anymore and that’s ok because my home town, the place to which I once belonged, is still alive in my heart. So I leave behind the heard of ‘mini’ vans, put their exhaust haze and all the strange newness in my rear view mirror, and turn to where the land rolls like Thunder Road. It will be good to be home.