Friday, January 06, 2006

Zoo At The Back Of The Store

Things disappear. Houses get torn down. People die. Highways get built and traffic rumbles through a meadow where a small child played close to where a rock concert was once held. A good chunk of my childhood's locale has been wiped out by the city of Murfreesboro and the new medical complex being built behind Stones River Battlefield. A few years previously a developer built houses on the land behind my old babysitter's home too. There used to be a woodland and a little pond there. I would climb trees and just stare into the pond for hours waiting on my father to come pick me up. Bees were kept by somebody deep in the small forest. The little girl that lived next door to my babysitter found a small clearing on the edge of the woods and she brought toy furniture there for a playhouse. All of this land is gone now with its capacity to evoke memories cheapened toward loss.

Life isn't a static event. I'm aware of that. The bumpersticker reads "shit happens" for a good reason. I got hipped to change early. We lived in Memphis, then Murfreesboro, then Ripley, MS, then Murfreesboro. We lived in multiple places in these towns all before I turned 6. Then there was the McClellan's department stores. There was one on the square of Murfreesboro and one at Jackson Heights Plaza. It was where my parents liked to shop. I barely remember the one on the square, but the one at Jackson Heights lasted long enough to forever imprint on my mind. It was a huge store to me. It even had a small zoo at the back. The variety of merchandise with all of the different colored packaging was overwhelming to a small kid. It was disorienting in a delightful way. After shopping there we'd often pull in at a burger shop located in the parking lot and get a hamburger. I believe it was called Speedy's. They closed early in my childhood.

Though those places are long gone I don't feel the same sense of loss. The places may be gone, but the skeleton is still in the grave. Jackson Heights is still there. There have been businesses in the location of Speedy's ever since it went under even if they're not the same actual building. The spot still exists. The dust of memory can settle there with ease.

It's not the same with areas that have been changed completely. You're left to rely entirely on what's in your head. I can recreate the honey locust tree that stood in a small grove of trees in my memory from the 5 acre field behind the house we lived in off Manson Pike. Even if I wanted to I can't ever touch its thorns again. The house was sold long ago, but there was solace in knowing it was there even if the subsequent owners moved it closer to the road.

There were plum trees in our yard and one summer my mother made plum preserves with the help of my cousin Lisa who was visiting from Memphis. So much stuff happened that week. I remember Lisa and I walking barefoot on hot July pavement into the Big K store where we bought play money. We went to see Smokey And The Bandit when a bunch of my aunts and uncles and cousins came to visit later in the week. I was playing on the swingset and I bumped my head and my cousins laughed at me. So I chased them all around the yard with a baseball bat.

The paradox of this for me is that I refused to let my wedding be videotaped. I felt like my memory would be enough. I don't need to watch a tape to see my wife 's confusion between my right and left hand. I can still recall her coming down the aisle with crystal clarity. I doubt that if the small church was torn down tomorrow I would forget that afternoon that will soon be 10 years in the past. But I bet there would be that sense of something lost to me. While accepting change on the surface, perhaps I have kept too much of a child's feeling of permanence in the world.

Since even with the landscape changed, even with things being torn down and replaced; the bees can still chase me, I can drink imaginary tea with Shelley Davenport, climb over some limestone rocks and enter the shade of a group of trees mindful not to step on the thorns of a honey locust tree, or listen to my father gripe about the loud rock and roll concert being held on the land behind ours.

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