It’s 5am and I have been up for over an hour. It’s strange, but I see this occurence as a weird sort of reverse nap, like a rest from sleep. The ideas start working around in my head and until I get them down, I cannot sleep. I hope after I’m done here, I’ll conk out again.
Tonight I went to the North Park Christmas, braving the wind and blowing snow for the two or three blocks to walk over to Main St. from my house and hang out in a big circus tent they have pitched, being fueled with a portable forced air heater, which is good, because the wind chill is probably around forty below zero. Which oddly enough is the same whether you are on Celcius or Farenheit.
My mom was busy selling the soaps she makes herself, chatting with all sorts of people coming by to look at the assortment of things she is creating these days. Bath bombs. Lip balms. Soaps. Soaps with gnomes popping out of them. Lotions. Just all sorts of stuff. I’ve been serving as a sort of Sherpa to help her drag all of this stuff to and from her car. The live music was a nice addition, with the solitary guitar player probably wondering why nobody was up and dancing, but you could still see that townsfolk were just enjoying the songs.
Standing around like a goon, I look out of place. I’m the guy not wearing Carhartt. Or a cowboy hat. You can pick the out-of-towners out of the crowd pretty easily. I’ve been away for so long, sometimes I wonder if I qualify. I see plenty of people I recognize at these events, but usually they don’t know who I am. I feel like Odysseus, returned from Troy after a lifetime of misadventures and the only one that recognizes him is the oldest living dog in ancient Greece. (I mean, think about it, that dog was at least 20 years old when he came back).
I was reintroduced to some folks today. I chatted with my Fifth Grade teacher for a bit, as well as the lady who used to run 4-H Model Rocketry which I was a part of for years. She was a teacher too, but not for any of the grades I was in. Then later on, I visited with my First Grade (and Third Grade) teacher and her husband, my 7th and 10th Grade shop teacher. The school used to hire husband and wife teachers because it let them monitor how much money they needed to pay and it saved the school a bundle on health insurance premiums. No joke! One of the things that struck me the most was how I remember Mrs. Goulette being so much taller, but I really hadn’t seen her very much since I was 9. Now I was looking back down at her for once! Mr. Goulette was now my height. A little more grey, but other than that he hadn’t changed much.
We talked about the work I was doing on the old house where I’m living and he talked about how much he enjoyed my class. How we all had such dry senses of humor and he tried so very hard not to laugh. He did a good job of that because we used to think we irritated the hell out of him! I guess that whole time he was working extra hard to hold it in. It was pretty cool, because once the recognition of who I was under this grey beard and outlandish clothes hit him, his eyes lit up and I could see all those memories flooding back. We talked about carpentry, shop accidents, and he was really intrigued when I mentioned I built a secret door at home.
It was good visiting with them, even though I was in introvert mode, feeling a little bit out of place in my hometown, and not looking forward to the walk back to my house in that wind. When it hits, you can just feel the soul getting knocked out of your body. Sometimes I dread catching up with people because they always ask what I’m doing back. For a while, it used to feel like I was back because of a defeat. You grow up in a place where the kids are fighting to get out, and that becomes ingrained in you. I’m a nationally published travel writer, I write web-content for companies and this week I sold four assignments, and I am writing a book. I think I’m just getting settled in with my newfound “I’m not a fraud, damn it!” mind set and I can look people in the eye with a straight face and say, “I’m writing.”
That feels pretty good.
The town is much different than I remember. It is lit up to coincide with the Christmas festival that is going on, but that has been done almost as an overlay on top of what is slowly falling apart. The old theatre signs and cafe signs are stripped down to the metal by the wind, with only patches of the red paint and almost none of the neon lights left–hints of the glory that once illuminated Main Street as you came in from the north and dropped down from the shoulder of Airport Hill on a night drive. It’s almost like a Hollywood set, which shows what a small town is supposed to look like, but it’s only at the surface.
Kids ran around here, doing the things kids do. They had a “snowball” fight with big cotton puffballs, and teenagers hanging out being goofy. Not so long and a whole lifetime ago, my friends and I were these kids. Everyone just so eager to grow up and move away and never come back. And now that I’m back, I see how much now we really took for granted.
At the end, we loaded up my mom’s car and we drove around town looking at Christmas lights for a bit. People here still decorate, but all the hot spots have changed over the years. People come and go. The place is familiar, but in many ways a lot different. My son would have loved the whole thing. I wish he could have seen it. Maybe next year.
So, I’m up getting these thoughts down, rather than let them roll around in my head knocking all sorts of other things out of place.