Hometown

A trip down memory lane

Photo courtesy of the author

I grew up in Podunk, NH, a town so small it was named for the first family to settle there, the Podunks. Some of their descendants were still residents. They didn’t put on any airs, though. After all, this town isn’t known for anything, and it certainly isn’t a tourist destination. You only know this place exists because you live here, used to live here, or regret that you know someone living here.

As you approach the town’s exit on the highway, you see a blue sign optimistically labeled: Attractions. Below the title it’s just blank. When the sign was erected, the town board must have been like, “Come back in 20 years and we’ll have an Applebee’s. Just you wait and see!”

You have to haul your own garbage to the dump in this town. Our next-door neighbor, before he retired, was in charge of the dump. Rusty was America’s first hoarder. He brought his work home with him, and so, his property also looked like a dump.

I guess he wanted to gaze at a parking lot out his kitchen window instead of nature. Row after row of broken-down cars filled his back yard.

Attached just off to the side of the front door was a “Beware of Dog” sign. Now, I don’t know if there really was a dog, or if Rusty had just found the sign at the dump and thought it’d be a good addition to his weathered siding, but that sign was wholly unnecessary.

There were a hundred deterrents to would-be trespassers in that yard, long before reaching the door. If you scraped your arm on anything littering the property, your next stop was the hospital to get a tetanus shot.

In fact, if there had ever been a dog on that property, it surely died of tetanus.

That being said, my brother and I used to sneak all over that property when we were kids. It was the closest thing to an amusement park in our region. We’d go exploring while making sure to keep our heads low, in case Rusty had a shotgun.

We could always tell when Rusty was about because he smoked sweet tobacco out of a pipe. You’d smell the smoke long before you saw his yellowed silver hair. Then you knew you needed to run.

Thirty-three years later, Rusty’s property has been handed down to his heirs. What a terrible inheritance. Someone was going to have a lot of work on their hands to make that place livable.

But as I recently drove past, I saw that not a thing has changed! The house still looks dilapidated, no renovations there. And the yard is still a dump. What a strange legacy for that family.

Next, I drove past the real dump, just to complete my trip down memory lane. It was closed, so I paused at the gate. I noticed a sign nailed to a tree: Shoes required. If you need to be told to wear shoes at the dump, well, let’s just say you don’t have much of a future to look forward to.

That’s the town I come from.

A Near Drowning

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I would have drowned – if I didn’t die from hypothermia first – when I was nine. My then seven-year-old brother Ben saved my life.

The river near our house was half frozen over. My brother and I walked out onto the thick sheets of ice and peered down into the rushing water. When the surface I occupied snapped under my weight, down into the frigid depths I sunk. Water-logged, my one-piece snowsuit was suddenly a liability – I may as well have had a cinder block tied to my ankle. I gripped the edge of the ice like a rock climber, even as my fingers turned red and ached from the cold.

The meditative sound of water trickling over rocks and swirling away downstream filled my ears as the current pinned my legs against the underside of the ice. I saw the gray sky above, threatening snow. Saw our house just up the hill, knowing the rest of our family were safe and warm inside. I felt my untimely end was nigh. Being so young, there wasn’t much life to flash before my eyes.

Then, Ben grabbed my arms. Deploying impossible strength for a child, he heaved me up over the jagged edge onto the ice floe. I lay on my belly like a stunned seal.

Struggling to get to my feet, water dripped down my boots as I waddled home. I stripped off my soaking winter clothes and was given a warm bath by parents who were perturbingly unperturbed. In fact, I don’t even recall their response, that’s how little of an impression it left upon me. I know they didn’t rush to my side, engulf me in a group hug, and gush, “Thank the Lord for sparing our second daughter!” My brother didn’t receive a medal for his heroism. The response was basically: “OK, that happened. Here are some dry pajamas.” My parents did have four children to spare, after all.

Was there a lesson to be learned from this experience? Nah. I lived to see another day. We were based in a rural town in New England where we spent our summers exploring the woods, using fallen leaves as toilet paper, prying leeches from between our toes after swimming, and setting off bottle rockets at the quarry. Like a cat, I had nine lives. As did each of my siblings.

I don’t tend to stand on ice anymore, though. I’ll leave that to the polar bears.