Going Home (Or Just Passing Through)

Yesterday I called my mother and told her I’d probably come down to see her for the Mother’s Day weekend on Saturday. She, of course, said come on anytime, so I baked a gift loaf of rosemary bread and started out about mid-morning today. 

I decided to make a detour and swing through Greenback, where I had lived for most of my youth and had gone to school from second grade through graduation, so I turned right at Maryville and headed down Morganton Road. It’s been a long time since I’ve made that trip.

The road used to cut through farms; now houses, churches, and subdivisions stretch almost all the way from Maryville to Greenback. The feel of the road was the same, but the view was completely different. I pulled up next to my grandmother’s old place, at the flashing yellow light, and then drove into town.

If my memory serves, fifty years ago there was a bank with a public library on the second floor, a farmer’s co-op, a post office, a grocery, a drug store, a small department store, and a gas station. I don’t remember the flashing yellow light, but there was a set of railroad tracks at the end of the business section, which was two blocks long. Today there is a bank (not the same one), a museum(!), a post office, a secondhand store, and the drug store. The railroad track is gone. I didn’t check on the co-op; back then it was on a side street. 

There was an empty slot in front of the museum, so I parked there and got out. As soon as I looked across the street to the post office I remembered the Wagon Train. Every year we would close off the main street and have a huge square dance the night before the horses and wagons made the trip to Glendale the next day. I went into the museum and had a quick look around, seeing lots of familiar names on the labels identifying the clothing, farm equipment, school and soldier memorabilia, newspaper headlines, and photographs. 

The drug store was barely recognizable; gone were the standing shelves in the center of the store, the book and magazine rack on the left, and the drugstore section in the back. It had been transformed into a diner. They had burgers and fries and wings and salads and stuff like that. But more importantly, they had fried honey buns with ice cream on top, just like fifty years ago. Now, on the menu, it’s listed as their signature item.

Later, on my way out of town, I found the new library location just past the turn to Lenoir City in a building that also houses the community center. It was closed. By two o’clock, about the time I made it to the family farm in Lenoir City, the drug store/diner and the museum would be closed, too. It was good that I came through town when I did. 

Mostly I was just passing through my old home town; I didn’t see anyone I recognized (which would have been surprising, given the passage of time) and as far as I know no one recognized me. For a couple of minutes, though, sitting at the counter, savoring that honey bun hot off the griddle with the ice cream melting over it, I was awash in memory.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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