June 16, 2010
I lived at number nine Martin Street in Newnan until I was seven years old. The house was a small place, three bedrooms with a fourth made from a converted carport. There was no central air, one phone line, no cable tv, one bathroom and seven of us living there.
Our social lives consisted of people coming over on Friday nights to play cards with my parents until some ridiculously late hour. We were sent outside to play more often than not, and play we did. That neighborhood was as well known to me as the back of my hand.
We had a little concrete stoop for a front porch. The best memory I have of that porch is when my dad would pick me up so I could see the Christmas lights that were strung from the top of the courthouse on the square down to the four corners near the streets. Not terribly long ago I drove by there, making several rounds to be positive nobody was home, then parked the car and stood on that knee high block of poured stone to see if I could catch a glimpse of the courthouse. I was amazed by how many memories came rushing back when that view appeared before me. I could hear my dad talking as we got out of the car after a run to Dairy Queen for ice creams on hot Summer nights. Those trips always started with him saying to my mom, "Honey, run to town and get me a banana split and a dilly bar..."
He always kept us entertained in the car. My favorite was the time we went to see Smokey and the Bandit at the Alamo Theater... The trip home was hilarious as he was on his CB radio doing a perfect impression of Buford T Justice. He started out by calling for the bandit and he got a bite... They went back and forth for the entire ride home, exchanging every line from the movie.
My uncle George had a small store near Martin Street and we went by there often. He sold gas and whatever he grew in his garden. I don't really remember too much about the place, except that he had an old recliner in the back with a small black and white tv that got nothing but static on it. I was always sent back there when we went by, it was where I waited until they were finished gossiping at the cash register. I would look at uncle G's pipe in the ash tray.. I can still smell that tobacco sometimes.
The kids in the neighborhood were of the usual lot and mixture. There were Summers of skinned knees, bike wrecks, endless games of hide and seek, and lightning bug filled jars. We played many games and held long playing sessions in backyards with toys that I would give anything to have back right now. We had a sandbox.... A sand pile was more accurate, periodically my parents would call somebody then a ton or two of sand would be delivered and piled in the back corner of the yard. I once launched a bike lock on a chain from the top of a freshly laid pile of sand in that corner that my younger brother still bears a knot on his head from... I still remember the whipping I got from that too.. I was banished to my older brothers room until my dad got home from the hospital and then I remember flashes of swinging belts and whimpers of promises that I would never do that again... I simply thought that I could hit him around the knees as he ran across the yard and trip him up...
My sister was up the street once hanging out with all the cool kids. They had set up a ramp in someones back yard and were doing spectacular jumps from it after racing down a hill to gather speed. I was sure I could do the same thing and kept whining about wanting to try it. She was getting annoyed and embarrassed by her little brother so finally yelled at me to do it.. I did... That was the first and last time I ever went over a ramp on a bicycle. I had no idea that you were supposed to pull up on the handle bars... I wasn't sure exactly what the excruciating pain I was feeling was as I laid on the ground in an agonizing fetal position. Through the laughter from the cool kids I heard a few new phrases and gathered that getting my "nuts racked up" wasn't a good thing... That house was on Stallings Street. That was the same street I talked my little brother into riding down on his tricycle at top speed when he was about two or three. Stallings street is all down hill, I think he may still have a few scars from that one too.
The coolest thing was the big grass covered hill at the end of the neighborhood that went down to the parking lot of American Can.... Somebody discovered once that you could slide down that thing on cardboard boxes and damn near hit forty miles per hour once you reached the bottom. We took a slip and slide over there one night... I have a huge scar on my knee from that still, always make sure there aren't any rocks under those things when you lay them out.
My older brother met his wife in that neighborhood when she was hanging on the back of the ice cream truck tossing out free stuff for the kids as it went down the road. He was chasing them shooting at them with a bb gun.
There was this mean little kid that would come and visit family a couple of doors down. I can't remember his name, but that boy was rough. He always caused trouble. He reminded me of Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird, just real nasty... He always boasted about things that we knew weren't true and whenever he was around there was always a fight. We once threw the little "poisoned apples" from the bushes in our front yard at him, causing the neighbor lady to come over there and complain. There was a huge fight as my parents were at work and my sister tried to explain that we did it because he knocked on the door and when she opened it he shot her in the face with a water gun. That lady yelled a lot. We got in trouble and the little boy rubbed it in by riding his bike back and forth in front of our house while standing on the seat laughing at us. He didn't laugh too long... I slipped out there and pulled a branch off that poisoned apple bush and tossed in his spokes as he went by. I will never forget the site of him going over those handle bars. I hid for a long time after that one.
I was in the second grade at Elm Street Elementary when we moved out here to Doc Perry Rd. Mom lied to the school officials and told them that we hadn't moved yet since it was so close to the end of the year. We would ride the bus over there every day and stay with Miss Vassey until mom came by to pick us up after she got off work. That was ok with me because Miss Vassey made the best sweet tea with lemon and tea cakes I've ever had. Plus they grew grapes in their back yard and that was a cool place to play...
The first night we moved out here my grandparents came up from the end of the road, someone went to town and brought back tons of food from McDonald's. We sat in the den upstairs and ate cold french fries and tiny little hamburgers... I couldn't go to sleep that night because a whippoorwill was in the front yard and would not stop calling all night. I had never heard one at the time and it scared me. I spent the entire night afraid that some army of ghosts had laid siege to the house.
I stepped out on the porch here a little while ago and heard a whippoorwill, it's funny how sounds can lead your mind on an aimless ride back through dusty memories of childhood. From a whippoorwill to a little hot crowded house in a southern neighborhood in the mid seventies to a tiny front porch and my dads arms to Christmas lights to Dairy Queen to Smokey and the Bandit to a small cinder block store to pipe tobacco to Summers of kids and games to dearly missed toys to sandboxes to bike locks to bike wrecks to sliding on cardboard boxes to stealing ice creams to a mean kid getting hurt to sweet tea with lemon to moving to cold hamburgers and back to whippoorwills..... All in about thirty seconds...
Jesus, if it wasn't so late I would go to Dairy Queen and get a damn dilly bar. No telling where my mind would take me then.