I’m back in my hometown for the weekend. A little writers’ retreat. It’s mostly been thesis stuff, but I churned out a quick poem, too. This afternoon I took a walk and ran into my very first boss, L. She was driving through the center of town just as I was strolling through. “Center of town” may be overstating exactly the location we ran into each other. The town center is merely a four way intersection with, get this, a traffic light. On the hill to the south is the congregational church; at the base of the hill to the north is a “plaza,” or rather two adjacent buildings, one of which is a liquor store, the other of which lies vacant. It used to be the general store, at which L was the manager and I was the coffee maker slash bagel(-sometimes-finger) slicer. We caught up for a bit and talked life and town politics. I’ve put a lot of distance between myself and this town since leaving, but standing under the traffic light, next the hand painted sign for next week’s turkey dinner (which is sold out, in case you were looking to go), I felt something like nostalgia. Y’all know how I feel about Rory Gilmore, but I was pretty moved by how moved she was to revive the Starshollow Gazette (not that she had many other leads, but still). As I stood by L’s car, I looked down the hill and had a strong desire to reopen The Store. The sign still hangs above the porch like an omen. A “Bain Real Estate” sign sits out front, a second omen. Living here and working here meant so much to me as a young person. I was just a kid when I worked there, but I gained so much. Responsibility, a bank account, customer service skills, exposure to good, old music, and the sense of humor that every service worker must cultivate in order to deal with weirdos and rude people. I left work each Saturday reeking of bacon grease. It took two showers to get it out, but it didn’t matter; I loved it there. Here’s my little tribute:
And so I come back to where I began
To the place that formed me,
Or at the very least held me while I took form.
I open my car door and spill into the driveway.
My knees hit the gravel as I look up.
Sleep will come easy tonight.
The sun rises and dawn’s pink fingers
Cradle the hollowed shell of this town,
A town struggling to be heard.
It had something, way back when.
It had a spark of love in it
If love is bacon and egg sandwiches,
Which it undoubtedly is.
If love is a place to gather with your coffee,
Which of course it is.
But something got in the way.
Something that sounds a lot like change
Falling into a Coinstar machine.
Something that smells like
Palms sweaty from
Being clenched into a fist,
Fits of anxiety.
Not ours, not the dreamers,
Makers, writers, creators.
It was, and always has been,
The owners who fear most,
Whose knuckles are the first to go white,
Tightly gripping their portfolios
And financial managers’ advice.
Having never had nothing,
I suppose it is this that they fear,
The possibility of losing it all.
So they hold on, instead, to unoccupied lots,
The safety that exists in vacancy.
They keep the buildings empty,
As we sit with wide eyes brimming
with tears, through which we see
blurry visions, possibilities.
We sniffle back the sobs and
smell fresh paint and baked pies.
We know what we could build,
Attract, become, support,
If only they would give up the keys.
Because I first heard this album while working at The Store, and because of this song’s relevance to this story & the story I am writing for my thesis, (an urban developer quoted Ms. Mitchell in one of the articles I read today) here’s some Joni for you all: