I’ve been thinking about the place I’m from for the last few days. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve made contact and chatted with people that, in a different world, I may have never spoken to again. Not out of animosity, but simply because I doubt our paths ever would have crossed.
I rarely go to Carrollton any more; since my mother moved away in the 1990s, I no longer have any family there and I have to, as I tell people, “mean to go.” That happened in 2003 when I thought my then-boyfriend might like to see where I’m from; yes, my husband and I had a very good time.
But every few years, I get together with a few members of our old “gang” — we actually did, and still do, refer to ourselves that way. We re-established contact with one another in 2001, just a few weeks before 9/11, and have managed to cobble together mini-reunions every couple years or so. That doesn’t count last summer, though, when the mother of one of my best friends died. Attending her funeral allowed us back in touch, but the occasion was far too sad to have much fun.
So Facebook calls Carrollton to mind. And 2011 — the 30th anniversary of my graduation from high school. Thir-tee years? A 20-year reunion — well, that just sounds like Yes, Time Has Passed. Thirty years sounds like grandparents and where’s my scooter and the bottle of Geritol.
Be that as it may, in the spring of 1981, I graduated along with 111 other souls from Carroll County High School. Then I went out into the world.
Sidewalks and alley-ways
In some ways, my childhood was idyllic, insular. My little world revolved around Ninth Street and my friends along those two blocks: Lisa and Greg; Laura and all her brothers and sisters; Chris, Luanne, Ginny; the Bunnings, the Hills. It was a neighborhood overrun with kids, and with widow ladies. We played in their backyards, we patrolled the alleys behind all our houses, sucking the nectar out of the blossoms on the honeysuckle bushes and collecting pebbles in the alleys’ crude roadbeds.
Along with those alleys, the sidewalks and the trees were our homes. We were always outside, drawing hopscotch or four-square blocks on the sidewalks or driveways. We climbed, until we were gooey with sap, to the top of the highest pine tree in the back yard at the corner of Tenth and Sycamore streets.
And if we weren’t climbing or inventing some game or another on the sidewalks, we were riding our bikes. Our bikes were freedom, fast-moving freedom, and I’ll never forget my blue flowered banana-seat bike. I rode it until I got my 10-speed for my 12th birthday — which widened my horizons to the edge of every city limit Carrollton had.
We lived in a small square house with red shutters and dormers upstairs. A single window unit air-conditioner cooled the entire downstairs; upstairs, box fans blew the hot air out during long sweltering summers. In the winter noisy, banging steam radiators heated the house. Oh, how warm they were. A bay window looked out over Seminary Street and the cemetery beyond. Mom always made us be quiet during funerals.
People had problems and there were tragedies, but like most children, I was insulated from the world of adults and their troubles. For me, life was school, friends, and St. John’s Catholic Church.
St. John’s had a school but it closed after my third-grade year. But I’ll never forget the boys in my class (for I was the only girl). I sang in the choir, and knew without realizing it that we had one of the most beautiful voices in the world in the person of our church organist, Nancy Jo Grobmeyer. The choir was filled with some of the sweetest ladies I have ever known — Janie and Helen, sisters; Jeannie, many others. Life at St. John’s was my life: going to the annual Halloween Party, potlucks without number, the mysterious Easter Vigil Mass, 40 Hours Devotion. They’re all tied together in the sweetness that was my childhood.
I know I’ll go back again — some time soon, the gang will get back together and we’ll watch as our children will make another leap in age, going off to college and to their own lives. Most likely I’ll go to the class of 1981’s 30th reunion — if my Facebook campaign to organize it is successful.
It’s often said that to know who you are, you have to know where you’re from. I know where I’m from — a small town in Kentucky, sitting at the confluence of two rivers. Sure, small-town life has its faults — and I know as I’m sitting here this morning, I’m glossing over the lows and difficulties faced by any kid growing up.
But you know, sitting here I also am quite proud of the place that helped form who I am. That close-knit community nurtured and cared for me, and I know any time I go there, there are folks who would welcome me, even after I’ve been 30 years gone.