Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Standing In a Different River

My first job after I graduated from college was on the staff of a small weekly newspaper. My title was "news editor" but in reality I edited obituaries, interviewed blue ribbon winners at the fair, took pictures of fender benders, and on Wednesday afternoons swept out the office.

This was not exactly what I had dreamed of doing when I first heard of Nellie Bly as a fourth grader, but it turned out to be a wonderful job.

I loved the work: I was writing all.the.time. Also, the number of interesting people found among the town's 1,800 citizens never ceased to amaze me. I also loved the town: I loved the old-fashioned courthouse square, I loved the way the geriatric guys teased me by calling me "Spin-Off," I loved the column I wrote each week by that name, I loved the rolling hills I drove through to get to the movie theater in the next town, I loved playing the old pipe organ at the Presbyterian church...I loved everything about living there--except...

Except that I was 21 years old, single in a small town that by the nature of small towns was structured around families. Even though I was involved in clubs and had good friends, I knew that I had to leave. So after four years I quit my job and set out looking for adventure, eventually ending up in the Peace Corps.

This year the Presbyterian pipe organ is 100 years old and as part of the anniversary celebration organizers invited back all the church organists who have played it over the years. Sunday afternoon Husband and I sat in the back row and listened as these musicians, ranging in ability from willing to wonderful, coaxed music out of the clattery old pipes.

I didn't play; it's been so long since I played a pipe organ that I didn't want the stress of preparation. But I smiled and smiled, remembering the years I spent here so many decades ago.

It's not the same town, of course. Mom & Pop's Burgers (no, I'm not making that up) is gone and two new convenience stores now anchor the corners of the turn-off to the main drag. One of the two grocery stores is closed, and the newspaper office has moved down the block. And no one except the woman who had invited me to the celebration--not one person--remembered me from back then.

I knew who they were, though. They were the people who made me feel welcome and had jumper cables when my car wouldn't start. Driving past my old house gave me a glow as my instincts remembered how grown-up I felt to be out on my own. I ticked off the memories--this is where my beloved bosses lived, this is the post office where we dropped off the newspapers on Wednesday afternoons, this is the drugstore where we drank cherry Cokes on break every morning. The little town was filled with ghosts of people who had been kind to me, and in my memories, no one was any older and I was 21 again.

I was still smiling when Pearl headed south again, even knowing I'll probably never visit there again. Heraclitus famously said that you can never stand in the same river twice. This river has moved on and changed, just as I have moved on and changed, but it was lovely to get my feet wet again.

The water was warm.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so so glad you write..I enjoy each time you share your witty wisdom!!