One of my earliest memories is from the time when my family moved to Carrollton, Ky. — a small town by any standard, even those of Kentucky, a largely rural state.
I was only 3 years old but I was already attuned to the conversations of adults in my little world. And much of that conversation had to do with leaving the Big City and establishing life in a place where no one locked their doors, neighbors sat on their front porches in the evenings and held conversations across the yard, and sidewalks were an engrossing subject.
Well at least I thought they were pretty important, at the age of 3, because people seemed to remark upon them pretty often.
Sidewalks became a fact of my life as a grew up in Carrollton; they were our roads, our connection to friends, our four-square games modified to two-square, our hopscotch lanes, and drawing palettes.
We lived on the sidewalks and alleys, on the walks to individual houses and on driveways to every home. It was the late 1960s and early ’70s, and we lived outdoors from April through November. It’s where we learned to ride our bikes, shooting from dad to dad — one to launch you, another to catch you, until you mastered breaking — and it’s where we burned the soles of our feet as we went barefoot through our childhoods.
In all my time living this outdoor life upon the sidewalks, though, I never once observed the mechanism that permitted them to be rolled up. For we lived, don’t you know, in a town so small they roll the sidewalks up at night.
According to my father, the place was also populated by little men with torches. If you kept a keen eye, you would see them racing up the streetlights, illuminating each one every night as dusk fell.
And you wonder where I get my imagination.
Yes, Carrollton was small. “If you blink, you’ll miss it,” was another old saw now applied to my little hometown — although even I knew this wasn’t precisely true. There were plenty of places within the county, and surrounding ones too, that were far more easily missed if you tarried too long on the upswing of a blink. Milton, for one, another Ohio River town notable, with its bridge, as a launching point for Madison, Ind. And then Sanders, a place not given to a great many distinguishing characteristics apart from the “beefalo” cattle/buffalo cross a farmer raised there when I was in high school. Yes, we drove out there to look.
Indeed, I spend my childhood looking — looking for the Canadian Garfunkels, small sweet tame little animals my dad said roamed wild in Canada. I kept my nose pressed to the glass as we drove through this exotic foreign country one summer when I was around 9. If I spotted one, Dad said, he’s stop and I could have it for a pet.
(Years later, my parents took another vacation trip to Canada, this time sans kids, who now were more content at summer camp. My gift they brought back for me from this expedition was a tiny funky little toy animal, sewn from sealskin … a Canadian Garfunkel. I cherish it still.)
I looked for trucks being weighed at the perpetually closed Weigh Station along I-71 between Louisville and Carrollton. When finally it was open, one night when we were returning home late from visiting family in Louisville, my parents awakened me to see, knowing how much it would mean to me to finally witness the mysterious Weigh Station in action.
I looked, too, for how the prices on the gasoline stations’ signs were changed, for they certainly were changed, by the 1970s, with some regularity. It gives me a small thrill to this day, to see these signs changed through use of a long pole with the numbers stuck on the end. I lament the advent of electronic signs broadcasting the price per gallon from truck stops along the Interstates — too easy. No mystery involved.
The mysteries of childhood become the world of the mundane for the adult. Yet roll-up sidewalks and gnomes who light streetlights still populate my dreams. I may have grown up in a place so small that if you blink, you’ll miss it. But it’s the richness of life between these blinks that still fires my imagination — whether or not I ever spot a roadside Garfunkel or beefalo on the roam.