Saturday, November 19, 2011

I Heard It As I Drove By

I don’t really like the phrase “old home place” but I guess it’s the most appropriate way to describe it.

Anyway, I drove by the “old home place” earlier this week and it was easy to see that the colors of fall, which add a very special value to the property in October, are now gone. In their place, the browns of winter are already settling in. Although the leaves were still bright in the morning sun, they no longer displayed the array of colors that I now realize I took for granted during my youth, when I lived right in the middle of all that beauty each autumn.

It’s funny where you mind goes in instances like that. Driving by, I realized those were same winter browns that would be in place come late December. Thus the same winter browns I recognize from so many old Christmas morning photos taken in the front yard of that home place; photos of boys on new bikes or boys shooting new BB guns. Or perhaps, photos of boys doing both. On those mornings, the browns of winter were full of Christmas magic.

They say you can’t go home again and honestly, I’m not sure I really need to. So I did not stop at the empty house. However, I think its okay to brush up against the old home with a drive-by once in a great while.  Anymore frequently than that and I might take it all for granted again.

It’s also been said the sense of smell can trigger memories more strongly than any other sense. But on this morning, it was a sound, or at least the remembrance of a sound, that shuttled me back in time 30 years. It was the squealing of school bus brakes. That sound somehow filled my ears as I drove past the spot where Bus Number 5 used to stop on that old blacktop road (it wasn’t striped in those days).

For restless riders who spent waaaay too much time on a school bus in the afternoons, the squealing of school bus brakes was the sound of home. When that squeal happened in front of your house, boy oh boy, you knew you were mere minutes away from an after-school snack and another episode of Gilligan’s Island.

In our case the bus actually stopped around the corner from our house; sort of equal distance between the neighbor’s house and ours. But that was fine; back then we were thin enough to slip through the space between the end of our chain link fence and the first post of the barbed wire fence. Once through, it was every man for himself as we raced down the hill to the front door.

And what about that front yard we raced through? As I drove by it, I brushed up against another memory of those BB guns and the hollow, metallic thud sound made when a BB would strike a pop can. Somewhere in that yard, I thought, are thousands of BBs shot from dozens of different guns over the years. Buried there beneath the grass are the teeny tiny reminders of three boys who passed many an hour taking aim at Pepsi cans, perched on a flat rock out by the propane tank; each BB representing a brief moment from my happy childhood.

Of course, the memory of one sound leads to another. Also buried in that yard is one red aluminum arrow, used only once. Standing on the west end of the yard, I pulled back the bowstring and let the arrow fly towards the target on the east end. It skipped on the ground (so much for my archery skills) and was never to be seen again.  I remember the rattling sound as the arrow skipped into the leaves and the rocks. I hunted for what seemed like hours for that arrow but to this day, it still eludes me. (By the way, I never looked for a single BB :)

There are plenty of other sounds to recall; sounds that still hang over that yard. Sounds like a tennis ball hitting the side of the well house so that a 12-year old baseball player could dive for it on the rebound. Sounds of dogs barking all night (dozens of dogs over the years), sounds of the wind blowing through the trees in the backyard, sounds of me arguing with my brothers after a particularly heated game of wiffle ball, the sound of a basketball’s thud as it was dribbled on the dirt and rock driveway and the sounds of a thousand other moments spent somewhere between the front porch and road.

No, I didn’t stop at the old home place, but I sure heard it as I drove by.

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