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Hometown Merry-go-Round (Life is a Highway Vol. 5)

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“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

~~~~

As much as I hate to write with stereotypes, I’ll be the first to admit that I am one. If you looked up small town, Midwest farmer’s daughter in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of me in a sunflower-dotted sundress and boots tossing hay bales, gigging frogs and tipping cows.

I’m the oldest of three rowdy brothers and a sweet little sister. Our farm was tucked into between two towns and the place we called home was Tipton, KS pop. 300. Even though I spent less than a third of my life there, it provided the foundation for much of who I am now. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My Grandpa Becker, a German immigrant, planted his proud roots out on the farm that my parents moved to as newlyweds and still live today. It’s where my Grandmas taught me how to garden and crochet. Where Mom educated me on sewing, cooking, praying and the nuances of taking care of a husband.

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Dad and his brothers schooled me on the land, weather patterns to watch and the value of old-fashioned hard work. I also learned to capture fireflies, chase bunnies with a salt shaker and drive a stick shift without killing it.

My teachers, who would have been top-notch in any college, taught us the basics and beyond. We quoted Salinger and Shakespeare and knew how to work a mean linear equation. We conjugated Latin verbs in between classes, play practice and track meets. We cheered for our state-bound 8-man football team and managed to keep our small school afloat through the generosity of alumni and community members–even in the eighties when the farming industry tanked right along with the economy.

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Gambrinus Street was the 600 yard stretch of road that my grandparents lived on, where I went to school, landed my first kiss and got married (not the same dude–phew!) Fancy street signs finally arrived in the early nineties and you can  find us on a Google map right here.

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My days were spent going to school, church and participating in anything that exercised the mind, spirit and the body. I graduated from high school with 12 other eager souls and never looked back when the Chevy Citation hit the gravel roads that led to college.

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And this is where the pavement turns to gravel and the difficult discussion begins.

Detours and surgery excuses aside, I’ve been wrestling with this article since April. Even the basic question of, “Where is your hometown?” dredges up trepidation to answer it the right way. My friend Karen told me, “It’s hard to tell our story without telling someone else’s.”

What if I get it wrong?

As I wrote the first draft, it became evident that the years I spent on the playground provided a perfect representation of the struggle to honor my roots while staying grounded to the imperfect, grateful and wiser person I’ve become.

A person who wouldn’t recognize the me I was thirty years ago.

The playground taught us how to handle bullies, stand up for our friends and get a little braver every day. It’s where alliances were formed while kisses were stolen.

Slippery slides, merry-go-rounds, teeter totters, swing sets and Ferris Wheels.

When it came to the merry-go-round, I preferred the perimeter. Typically, I was one of two people slapping at and pushing the galvanized metal bars while the riders pretended to fly or bravely dipped their heads low enough to let long braids brush the dirt beneath. The ride always ended with squeals of delight as they leapt to the ground from the wheel when it reached top speed.

The few times I actually rode, I got caught between trying to enjoy it, upchucking school lunch and being too terrified to make the terminal leap. Most of the time I had a death grip on the center bar with my eyes closed and prayers whispered under my breath.

That was so me. Timid, shy and publicly puking at inopportune moments. In order to hide my inner chicken, I spent years pushing, challenging, studying and working myself to the bone because I never felt good enough, smart enough or pretty enough to make a difference.

But that’s not my hometown’s fault. Some kiddos are just more sensitive–it comes with the territory of being an old soul in an eight-year old body. I spent too many years taking words, deeds and promises literally. My family’s legacy taught me to be humble first while my inner fighter lent me some resilience until I figured it out.

The teeter totter taught me about the careful balance required for friendship. Even as second graders, there’s a required trust that the other won’t leave you hanging in the air or bail to send you plummeting to the Earth. Trust runs abound in my spirit despite the fact that I landed on my noggin more than a few times after a mischievous friend couldn’t resist.

When I got up early this morning to finish writing, movement forward was more difficult than I could have ever imagined. Like a swing, I soared from high to low with very short, sometimes sobby stops in the middle.

The swing toward the sky took me to over-the-top sentimental memories where I miss my siblings, nieces and nephews who are scattered like fluffy dandelion seeds from West Virginia to Oregon. Even happy memories make me wiggly because I know that there is an inevitable good-bye at the end. Good-byes suck and I’ll run to the trees and hide if needed.

The flight down from the high point lead me to the tortured writer’s cave I live in sometimes. There lay a canyon of hurtful memories, disappointments and questions. Questions around what battles families in our little town may have privately fought while keeping food on the table, staying sane and not giving away secrets.

Then, there is the Ferris wheel.

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Every year, our town holds a Church Picnic to raise funds for the school. It’s the first weekend in August and, as a teenager, I used to save my money and plan what to wear for the weeks leading up to it. Boys came from out of town…with cars. It was a big deal that required lots of hairspray and perfume.

Even now, we go back for the celebration once in a while and the landmark Ferris wheel still sits at the juncture between the church, school and the fields to the East. No matter what your age, it’s customary to ride it at least once.

The Ferris wheel is the same year after year. It’s like all one ride to me: we go up and I think of people I knew who are dead and I smell fall in the air, manure, corn dogs, and we drop down into blazing light and blaring music. Every summer I’m a little bigger, but riding the Ferris wheel, I feel the same as ever, I feel eternal….

 This is my vision: little kids holding on to their daddy’s hand, and he is me. He looks down on them with love and buys them another corn dog. They are worried they will lose him, they hang on to his leg with one hand, eat with the other. This vision is unbearably wonderful. Then the wheel brings me down to the ground. We get off and other people get on. Thank you, dear God,  for this good life and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

~ Garrison Keillor, Leaving Home

Dad introduced me to Garrison Keillor a few years back and my friend Christy sent me this excerpt a few weeks ago. The poet’s words and a childhood that’s a lifetime away are what inspired me to write this series in the first place.

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Hometown memories and experiences naturally come with bittersweet feelings and stomachs loaded with butterflies. We can all find instances of childhood angst and sadness and I’m not dwelling on any of it. I’m too grateful for the life I have now as well as the extended family who wholeheartedly shared their last name with me (thank you Ron, Marie, Suzanne and Big Daddy). I’m so thankful for the place I’ve called home for the last twenty-three years and for my kiddos who now call it theirs.

Thanks to the past and present, old and new hometowns, I can honestly say that I’m a brave and outspoken woman who is more than willing to spin wildly, dip my braids in the dirt and fly free until it’s time to jump.

~~~~

Written with love to my parents, Bob and Marguerite who provided me with the best childhood a kid could have. Hugs to my siblings Dennis, Sharon, Jerry and Wayne who grew up beside me and became wonderful adults blessed with bountiful gifts, talents and beautiful families.

~~~~

Enjoy this very special playlist with selections from Kacey Musgraves, Eric Church, Eli Young Band, Deanna Carter and Dierks Bentley.

These songs fill crevices that my words can’t reach.

Up Next: Long Trip Alone

Note: A few more photos are posted on Ps and Qs

 

43 thoughts on “Hometown Merry-go-Round (Life is a Highway Vol. 5)”

  1. Terrific post. I’ve only had one hometown – tracing back I find an ancestor of mine being born in the same parish! Hardly the great adventurers are we – mind you that is probably why I’m in England and you are in USA – your forefathers had the gene that made them get up and go west I suppose – Mine I presume didn’t!

    1. Furtherton! I’m so honored that you stopped by and commented :-)
      Maybe England and your hometown are just so beautiful that there’s never been a reason to leave. My adventurer’s spirit would love to come see for myself!
      Thank you again for your kind words…I hope to get caught up on my WP reading this week–I’m sure that I will see you around :-)

    1. Thank you, Paul!
      Interestingly enough, while my husband enjoyed it, he called my bluff and told me I could have said more. Then I made him watch the videos to fill in the missing spaces ;)

    1. Thank you, so much TD. A real honor coming from a writer like you.
      There’s always more to say, but I’m learning that I don’t have to say everything to express what I want.
      Thank you again for your kind words :-)

  2. This hits all the notes of a well-lived life and shows deep appreciation for the people who helped you become you. I spent a chunk of my life waiting to finally feel like a grown up and I think I reached that milestone when I started to value connections more than detractions. You’re clearly there, sweet Michelle.

    1. I know what you mean about the growing up part!! Have you seen the quote on that subject from Maya Angelou? If not, I’ll find it and send :-)
      A very special thanks to you. Without your reply on how to tell the story, I may have pleaded the 5th and glossed over to the next post. Thank you for the gentle guidance and support. xo

    1. LOL! I’m so glad you picked up on that comment!!
      My dad and Grandpa used to tell me that I could catch that rabbit if I sprinkled salt on the tail. It took me YEARS to realize that they were messing with me. Their reasoning was, if you’re fast enough to salt the tail, you’re fast enough to catch it (I come from a whole family of sprinters!!)
      FYI: I have yet to catch a bunny.
      Thank you for stopping by. I hope to get caught up on my WP reading and stop by your place, too!! xo

  3. “it’s hard to tell your story without telling someone else’s”
    no. not for you.
    This was beautiful, and until I got to the Garrison Keillor quote I was so reminded of him in your words, and then here he was with his reminder to love our lives enough.
    just lovely!

    And maybe there is something about Michelle’s, but I, too, on my vast playground with several hundred students here in L. A. held tight to the center of the merry-go-round, willing myself not to vomit. But OH! How high I could swing and fly off at just the right moment, playing Peter Pan in my head as I landed in the sand!

    xo

    1. “But OH! How high I could swing and fly off at just the right moment, playing Peter Pan in my head as I landed in the sand!”

      Your words made my heart sing! I’m so glad that I have a fellow hanging on tight sister that has spread her wings, too. No matter where we live, or where we land…it’s a blessing to have enough :-)
      Thank you again for stopping. I was off WP almost all of last week…I plan to do some serious reading this week. You’ll be seeing me around…I’ll bring snacks! xo

  4. Absolutely loved this post, Michelle. “…where alliances were made and kisses stolen…” “…boys from out of town. With cars… meant hair spray and perfume…” All such wonderful descriptions that communicate more than just actions but the feelings in those moments. One of the towns I cover here at the paper is a small Oregon town named Mapleton. Graduating class this year is 14. It’s one of my favorite beats because of it’s special nuances and traditions. Your piece reminded me so much of being there, connecting those special bonds unique to small towns everywhere.

    Garrison has always been one of my very favorites. I used to listen to his radio show while sitting on the front porch Sunday evenings in Georgia. So glad you discovered him; there are clear whisperings of his voice in yours ;)

    1. I NEED to subscribe to your paper! I looked up Mapleton and had to smile…thank you for including it in your comments. They are a huge unincorporated town! Population 918 :-)
      In the several years my Dad told me about Garrison, he always ended with, “But you need to hear him on the radio….” I’m honored that you can hear his whisperings in my stuff. The Ferris Wheel piece was the first I read of his and now I’m hooked!
      You are always so kind to comment, read my ramblings and help me muddle along. Thank you, Ned!!

  5. Great post hon, I love the familiarity of a carnival as well as how all I have to do is smell the river and I feel at home. Though most of my childhood was not very good, I do have some memories with my dad that I will always treasure.

    1. I’m so glad that you have memories of you and your dad. As I wrote the post, I was careful not to go too far from the safe middle. So many people have childhood horror stories and I didn’t want a post about it to dredge up bad memories for anyone. I also didn’t want my many blessings to be a showy slap in the face. I’m glad you found your own happy place with your sweet hubby and four boys :-)

      1. Never be ashamed to post about your life, it isnt your fault that others have had bad moments. I love hearing about the wonderful things you have experienced, it is part of you, and part of the reason you turned out to be such a wonderful and sweet person.

  6. You always knock em out of the park. The pictures, the words, the feelings…Tipton sounds more idyllic than any small town I saw on the big screen. Love the image of you chasing after bunnies with a salt shaker as much as well as you getting all dolled up for the annual fair. It’s all so universal and relatable, as is the bittersweet connection to where we grew up. It makes me think of the place that will always be home and couldn’t feel further away, and I’m a little sad but mostly fine with that.

    1. Dear Kristen,
      You always know the perfect things to say and your sincerity touches me every time. Your last sentence is my favorite: It makes me think of the place that will always be home and couldn’t feel further away, and I’m a little sad but mostly fine with that.
      Your words so clearly reflect feelings that I was unable to express. Thank you so much for providing the perfect ending. xo

  7. One of your best, dear Michelle! I want to comment so much more on –but it’s too big. You are brave. I have never taken on ‘Tipton’ because I do not know where to begin and where to end (maybe because those demarcations do not exist?) I take flowers for all the graves each Memorial Day and as I stood there last week in the midst of mine/our ancestry and pivoted 360 degrees looking out to the highway, into the town, then to the hills, and finally the road back to. . . I realized I have lost the ability to say the word “home.” Like I say–it’s too much for now. . . Bless you.

    1. Dear Ruth!
      I happened to be sitting here when your comment came across. I totally understand everything you’ve said and even more of what you didn’t.
      I almost didn’t take Tipton on either–you know there’s even more there than what’s been shared. The post was scheduled for today and I didn’t start writing it until last night…I couldn’t start and it certainly was difficult to end. The only thing that got me to the keyboard was that old stubborn German in me that said, “You scheduled it. You do it!!” I did the best I could with as much honesty as possible without going too far out into the weeds, the wheat fields and the creeks.
      Speaking of the cemetery…I took a dozen or so pictures of that in a perfect sunrise and didn’t post any of them. Too much stuff, right?
      I may put them on my photography site…if I get some more guts.
      You capture it perfectly when you share that you’ve lost the ability to say the word “home”…I get it dear cousin. Thanks for dipping your toe in with me. It means more than you know. xo

  8. Loved this….it so makes me miss being in Kansas and being with family. Home is where your heart is and the truth is there is always a little piece of mine with all of you. Loved the descriptions and it took me right back to that excitement of heading to the Tipton Church Picnic…great memories. Thanks so much for sharing your talent. Xo

    1. Suzie!!
      My West Virginia sister :-)
      Thank you for stopping by and leaving such sweet words. That Church Picnic almost ended it once with Mr. Terry and I (remember??) Little did I know that it was just the first step in compromise, fighting fair and picking flowers ;-)
      We can’t wait to see you in July…hugs to your boys (big and littles) xo.

  9. Such a talented wordsmith, so much between the lines as well. You weave these lovely images with a life of their own, not only drawing the reader to venture into Tipton but almost forcing us back to the home towns of our youth as well…beautiful memories, beautiful writing Michelle. Thank you for sharing. Respect REDdog

    1. You’re a gem, REDdog. Thank you for the kind words and for noticing the in between-the-line dance :-)
      I’m so glad that this post sent you back to your hometown, too. I worried that there was too much “me, myself and I” Relieved that it struck a chord and always grateful for your visits and comments. Michelle

  10. Really, really lovely. You do know how to paint a picture in letters. I’m also so glad to have seen the answer to why you were chasing bunnies with salt. i tried to guess, but the only thing I came up with was early seasoning, a dry rub? Eek. That’s quite the tall tail you were fed. (Sorry, should probably get to sleep). Anyway, again, really nice.

    1. Thank you! You are so kind to stop and comment.
      Wanna go chase some bunnies?!?!
      Aren’t you glad the salt wasn’t for a dry rub? Even if the darned things eat my garden, they are too cute to do anything about it (now, if I was just fast enough to catch one!)
      Have a great day!! xo

  11. Beautiful Michelle, you took me there and made me get on the ride :) Brings back memories of a school I went to…in all the years I went there, there was no more than 30 students with just 1 teacher for the whole school, and most students came from a long way off. The town itself was only 8 houses and a little service station. Oh, and we chased rabbits, but we at least used ferrets to get them out :) (no salt, sorry :) )
    Thank you for a lovely share my friend. Namaste

    1. Hi Mark!
      You MUST share more about your town!! The only thing missing from our stories is walking to school up hill thru snow both ways–although, we probably each had an ancestor that did ;)
      I always love hearing from you, Mark.
      Have a great day!!

      1. Hi Michelle, I put a photo of my old school up just now in the gallery on my blogsite. The open cut mines have disintegrated the area and they must have convinced them to leave the old girl standing. All other houses are gone. I can barely recognize the landmarks around the area :)

  12. Simply beautiful. Makes me long for your childhood. It’s interesting how where we grew up in our formative years, shapes us. That ferris wheel looks like fun! I miss that playgrounds around here don’t have see-saws anymore. I can still remember piling 3 of us on each end, and falling off the end (I was on the back) when we were high up and landing on my back, knocking the wind out of me. Felt like a fish out of water, gasping. LOL. Memories.

    1. Hello! Always so awesome to see you around here :-)
      Oh my goodness…I could see your three person circus in my head! Is there anything crazier than getting the wind knocked out of you? Feels like near death one minute and then back to normal the next.
      I’m off to check out what you’ve been doing over at your place :-) Hope you are having a great week!!
      Michelle

  13. Enjoying your series my friend- so nice. and today’s post had some of those wonderful descriptors that just seem to flow right from your brain to the page… “to let long braids brush the dirt beneath…” :) so nice…

    and I leave with thoughts of the ferris wheel, Keillor’s words, and the feel of the twangy song that was first on the playlist – and also 0have such a feel for your hometown past – the older sibling from a small ol’ town in the middle of the big ol’ United States (and that United States was supposed to be said with an accent…) ha!

    have a great day :) <3

    1. Dear Yvette,
      I’m so thankful (everyday) that our paths have crossed. Your words always bring me joy and I think of you often. Isn’t it funny…when I think of you, I visualize the picture of your family on the front porch of your beachy home (if I remember correctly, it was the “wrong” side of the states!!) Your “accent’ made me giggle this morning, too.
      Have a wonderful day, dear friend! xo

  14. “Thanks to the past and present, old and new hometowns, I can honestly say that I’m a brave and outspoken woman who is more than willing to spin wildly, dip my braids in the dirt and fly free until it’s time to jump.”

    Oh Michelle, this was a Kleenex moment for me. An incredibly moving post to say the least. I simply don’t have the words to describe how it made me feel. Your very essence was so present.

    You are so beautiful. xxO

    1. Okay, WOW! Thank you so much dear Victoria. Your words always mean the world to me. I wasn’t as brave as I could have been in this hometown reveal, but it’s the part that’s taken up residence in my heart…that’s all anyone needs to hear :)
      A simple thank you seems so lame for the many ways you make my life richer :)
      Xo

    1. Hi Yvette,
      I finally was able to break away long enough to you look at your link. Oh my goodness…those are fantastic pictures. I LOVE black and white…just something about it that captures expressions to so well. You are so sweet to think of me. xo

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