"Home, sings to me of sweet things..." That's a line from a Bonnie Raitt song called "Home", and whenever I hear it, I get a visual of the road that led to our house in Abingdon, VA.
I've been really ill for the past week, so yesterday was the first time I was able to venture out of the house, and I woke up thinking - or more like hearing - "you need to go see Daddy, you gotta go to Abingdon" ...and so I did. And yes, 50 year old semi-Southern women still refer to our fathers as "Daddy". I just have to share with you what has always been so special to me.
A little history about Abingdon can be found here. It was always clear to my sister and I that our summers were special, I just never really understood how cool it was to be a barefoot kid, free to run around with my sister and my friends, in a town that is literally steeped in Civil War history. Let me show you around!
If you click on the map, it'll open in another window, and will certainly be clearer. But the green dot at the end of Leonard St. is our house. The orange dot across town is where I spent my formative years learning about the wily ways of boys...and I do mean ALL between A and B Streets! The Piggly Wiggly was at the end of Main St. as you head out of town; so was the Dairy Queen, which is still there.
Everything else was our own personal stomping ground. I was fascinated at a very early age by the Sinking Spring Cemetery, had many a ghostly experience there; some (in my poinion) real, others made up by boys for the sole purpose of...well, you know. And "The Tavern"...the oldest building in Abingdon...I crossed the street to avoid it when I was a kid, and found myself doing it again yesterday. Some things just carry what is imprinted upon them. Abingdon is a veritable playground for those who have crossed over, but just can't seem to stay there.
Abingdon always had a sort of "To Kill A Mockingbird" kind of groove to it, because gentrification hadn't set in yet. Because the town is so small, anywhere you walked was the 100th time you'd done it, which is probably why it's burned into my memory. The days were hot, the streets were dusty, and yes - you could ride your horse down any street you chose, including Main Street.
Whenever I walked past the Martha Washington Inn, where my grandmother and my father worked in the kitchen (she as a cook, she took him with her as a toddler and he would peel potatoes), I would tell myself that one day I would stay there. That one day I would sit on that huge porch in one of the wicker rockers, and I would watch the world go by...and seven years ago I did. I sat there on the veranda under the soft glow of the porch lights, watched the mountain mist settle over Main Street, and read in until I nearly fell asleep; it was that sublime an experience.
Across the Street is the Barter Theatre, where I believe (and there's no one around to tell me anymore) either my grandmother or grandfather worked. My sister and I used to crack each other up with the idea of people using sacks of potatoes and bushels of carrots to pay to see plays; but that's exactly how it got its name. We would crane our necks to try to get a glimpse of the Hollywood folk who came to perform in the summer...never did see one.
But that was what it was like in town. There was a clear separation of people by class and economic status.
My memories of the area near our house have become sepia toned versions of this...
My purpose for going there was to have a long conversation with my dad. Just the two of us the way we used to; to apologize for staying away so long, and to ask him to help Miss Lillian acclimate, because she'll be joining him soon. There's no way to know for sure, but I felt that he heard me; that he understood about my long absence...and that he rolled his eyes because he knows he won't get a minute of peace with that woman there... and eternity is a mighty long time to listen to her yammering.