I’ve always known I am adopted. Whether by chance or by choice I don’t know. I’ve never been particularly driven to find out which. Growing up in a very small New England town it was an exotic tidbit but since every child and adult that lived there knew me from the beginning there wasn’t really anyone I could use the information to impress. It has always been just a part of who I am. Later in my story it enters in a bigger way but this isn’t about that.
Things to know about me. I don’t like sleeping with pants on. Or anything below the waste. Or any long nightgown thing that can wrap around my legs. Which is perfect because my best friend and traveling companion sleeps without a top so between us we’re fully dressed, or naked depending on your perspective. I like things in the proper place, not obsessive organizing but when I find a place for something to be, that’s where I want it to be every time. My eyesight is poor. I have worn contacts for decades. Part of the organization is the ability to find things by touch. My grampa Jewett had strict rules about using his things. If they weren’t returned to their proper place you never got to borrow them again. I am forgiving. To a point. Then I’m done. You can push me for a while before I push back. I’m a stone cold sugar junkie. I can be bought with sweets. I am passionate and stubborn. I get things done not by being aggressive but by being patient. I dream of many things. Living where it’s warm all the time. Walking across America on little used roads. Traveling to faraway places. Knowing my son is safe and happy. I have never wanted the house, the settlement or a place. My dad was a rambler, a traveler and a gregarious person. My mom is a homebody who is quiet and reserved. They had this amazing balance that suited them although it’s clear who I am most like in those regards. I don’t like to have things around my neck. I have a slew of t-shirts that have the collars cut off. I rarely, if ever, wear necklaces. I will wear a collared shirt but only for a short time. Recently while helping mom put on a necklace I wasn’t surprised to hear her say she doesn’t like things around her neck so not to make it too tight. Those are the little things, the ones that make up my personality. I believe that unless we are aware of those types of things about our friends we really don’t know them.
I chuckle when I hear people say they live or grew up in a small town, then they talk about a small town being 10,000 or even 5,000 people. There were 350 people in my town when I was in high school. We were almost up to 800 a few years ago but that has dropped back down so we have closer to 700 now. I’ve lived in apartment buildings that had more people than some of the towns I have lived in.
Back to the beginning. The town I grew up in had a little village store where we could get sodas for 10 cents and the penny candy was in a big tin bin that Jack Hammond (the store owner) would reach his big hand in and for my penny I got a hand full of tootsie rolls, hard candy, Bazooka Bubblegum and whatever he happened to have in there. The was a pay phone that required a dime for a local call. In order to make the call you would dial the number, wait for the person to pick up and then really quick you put your dime in and hope it landed before the person you were calling hung up.
We had a swimming hole on the river with a rope swing and a deep spot where we could jump off the bridge and sail 30 feet through the air to the water. There was the “Alligator Rock” which was at the other side of the swimming hole and we could swim out and sit on the rock while the water still flowed over it where the river split around a tiny patch of rocks and trees. I suppose someone knows the reason for the name but for me it had always been called that and we just accepted it as the way it was.
There were four houses on my road and I could come and go in those houses whenever I wanted. Across the road was Edna, you met Edna in “She Wore Pink Slippers” earlier in these stories. Miss Goodnow lived next to us. In my mind, she was the oldest person in the whole world. For a quarter (a king’s ransom in those days) I could run errands for her and sometimes I was even allowed to cross route 9 to go Jack’s store. She had tenants in the other side of her house. Henry and Thelma. Thelma was a teacher at the local high school so they only lived there during the school year. Henry must have been retired or it may just be my memory that he was always home. Sometimes he’d let sit in the front with him and steer the car when he went to Jack’s. Next was Gladys and Roy. They weren’t quite as old as Miss Goodnow but to me they were still ancient. Theirs was a big old house that was probably one of the first farms in that part of town decades ago. That was my road. It wasn’t long, more of a street.
At the end was “the four corners” where Mrs. Harris lived, she requires a story all her own, on one corner and Gramma and Grampa Hastings lived on the corner across from Mrs. Harris. They weren’t my grandparents but they were grandparents to my second cousins who lived two houses up the road and everyone called them that. Or maybe they didn’t and it’s just my memories again, that’s what I called them. Their daughter Fay, lived there for a time and when I very young my dad would walk up and for fifty cents she would cut his hair. Next there was Candy and her dad, then my cousins and on it went. In those days, there were three or four more houses on the road ending way, way up in the woods at Perley’s place, because yes, we even had a hermit.
It was a town where you really did know everyone. I had two kids to play with that were close to where I lived and they were my second cousins Peggy and Freddy. Some days I was allowed to walk up the big hill and play with the sisters that lived up there and we in turn would go down their road to the “foster home” and play with the kids there.
For the first eight years of my life that WAS my life. Simple, safe and placid. There were dangers but they were different than the ones kids face today. Kids didn’t get abducted, we fell off bikes and got scraped up, we didn’t get shot in drive by shootings, we fell off the rope swing at the swimming hole and got hurt when we landed too close to shore. When we behaved badly, we got punished. It wasn’t child abuse if I got smacked on the butt for telling a lie, nor was it abuse when my dad slapped my face for swearing at my mom.
Even after moving a whole three miles up the road life stayed simple, biking down to the swimming hole, climbing trees, getting lost in the woods. I never recall being scared or worrying about strangers.
There were secrets, like boy who came to my first-grade class at 12 years old who had been in his grandparent’s attic until someone found him. In hind sight, I feel like there were some kids in town that had been abused, but maybe not, my memories are just that, my memories.
Was it a better time? I’ll never know, I only know it was my time. It shaped who I am and in turn shaped who I tried to teach my son to be. When I was a young adult I couldn’t wait to get out and then when I had a child of my own and lived in a more metropolitan area I couldn’t wait to get home.
I don’t think we can get those times back, we’ve gone too far in our fears and phobias, life is too stressful and busy. All I can do is be the person I learned to be then by not giving up my values and my ideals now.