My Hometown


Sometimes I dream about the cracks in the sidewalk. That cavernous pit on Key Corner that always grabbed the front wheel of my skate and sent me plummeting to the hot asphalt. Blood dripped down my leg as I continued my journey to the Exxon for a grape Slush Puppie on a hot summer afternoon.

My hometown. A small, southern speck on a map with population: not enough. The place where I spent my childhood. The place where my parents and grandparents spent theirs. Brownsville, Tennessee. wpid-screenshot_2015-01-23-09-43-56-1.png

My great grandmother, Bess Brown, once told me that the town was named after our family. We’d founded the whole tiny place, in all of its boring glory, she said. Of course she was 101 years old at the time and couldn’t distinguish a car from a Coke can, but I believed her in my childish naivety. I peddled my hot pink Huffy bicycle through the neighborhood thinking, “This town is mine.”

My maternal granddaddy owned the corner drug store years before I was born and emphysema had riddled his body. I remember pictures of the store, though, and how I thought it looked like a place right out of Mayberry. My mom kept big glass bottles that had once contained Coke and grape syrup, and I’d stare at them and think about the old days in black and white when having a soda at a counter was a real hoot. My paternal grandmother was a favorite teller at the big bank with the indoor waterfall. She always gave me a handful of suckers when we visited, and then she strutted me around to show me off to all of her friends. She made a bigger deal about me than necessary. I hadn’t scored a single point in the church basketball game last night, but she made me out to be the next Wilt Chamberlain in pigtails and jelly shoes.

I remember the sound of the big trucks roaring by my grandmother Lucy’s house. They shook the tall window panes and drowned out the sound of Hee-Haw on her television with rabbit ears. I spent summers carving graffiti (boys names surrounded by hearts) on the back of my grandmother Rebecca’s shed. The same shed where my dad held band practice back in the 60’s. Their claim to fame was wearing high water pants and winning a talent show. I heard they could play “Gloria” like Van Morrison himself.
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I remember the ugly red carpet in our church. It covered the alter where people wept and repented as a fat southern preacher shouted about hell and damnation and wiped sweat from his brow. That bleeding red carpet soaked in the sounds of my mother, the pianist, banging out “I’ll Fly Away.”

I remember the funeral home, with it’s green carpet, as equally as ugly as the church’s floor covering. It was the funeral home where my daddy slipped away at his father’s visitation, and my mother motioned for me to follow him. I’ll never forget finding him in a dark back room crowded with folding chairs and a dusty organ, and he was sitting on the floor weeping like a baby. That was the only time I’d ever seen my father cry.

It was the same funeral home where I saw all of my grandparent’s sweet, caring faces for the last time. The same funeral home where I felt proud because the line of people to see my young dad in the casket was so long that it spilled out onto the sidewalk and around the corner. I’d never known how good a guy my dad was until that day. That many people don’t come to pay their respects to just any old scoundrel.

My hometown. Where I heard names like Miss Fannie, Aunt Ottie, Mr. Parker, and I knew immediately who they were and every name that rested on the branches of their family tree. We all knew one another, you know. I never went to a gas station, a diner, a Peach Festival without my grandparents talking with ladies wearing too much rouge or men with walking sticks about how so-and-so’s boy just wasn’t right after the war. wpid-20150123_110342-1.jpg

That little place where I could roam from one end of town to the other on some kind of wheels and never worry about kidnappers or scary guys in conversion vans. The place where I raced down a hill on a grocery cart and nearly spilled onto Main Street and got hit by a Mack truck. I ran back into the grocery store to find my mama, my short life still flashing before my eyes. That store. I’ve memorized each aisle in that store. I can still see the big bell shaped like a cow that sat at the meat counter. “How may we serve moo?”

The place where I ate too many ice cream cones and thick-cut bologna sandwiches. The place where I learned piano from a woman with the oldest, but prettiest, hands I’d ever seen- covered in wrinkles and liver spots, but nails always freshly painted peach. Her house smelled like old lady powder as I read my sheet music by the antique lamp on her upright.

The old familiar place where we had family reunions in little cabins littered with saw dust on Tabernacle Road. Where the grown ups drank iced tea and situated box fans to help ease the sweltering summer heat. Where the kids played hide and seek in a graveyard. Where I was too fat to hide behind the skinny tombstones.

But when I got older, I was tired of running into familiar faces everywhere I went. I was impatient waiting on my elders to finish reminiscing. I didn’t want to discuss someone’s bursitis or listen to the latest scandal at the country club while in the waiting room. I just wanted to buy a Creed CD at Wal-Mart and hop into my car and go do the things teenage girls do without being interrupted by this small town’s gossip. I didn’t want to be where everybody knew my name, my family tree, or the stories about the crazy things my dad did in high school. By seventeen, I was bored with it all. I wanted something new.

So we left. Once my father and my grandparents were all buried in shady plots on opposite ends of town, my mother and I packed our things and left. She left the sidewalk cracks that she often dreamt of. She left the town that had produced fifty years of memories for her. Granted, we only moved thirty miles from that small, southern speck on the map, but I was relieved that I could finally go shopping without running into a single person I knew who wanted to tell the same tales I’d heard 3.4 million times.

I grew up and accomplished goals. I went to college. And I met a boy. And we got married. And children were born. And guess where we ended up? A hop and a skip from his hometown. Not mine, but his.

We go to the diner after church, and the children and I are halfway done with our meals before he’s taken the first bite. He’s off gabbing with an old man donning a yellow beard who took him fishing once when he was five. My husband had a crush on his granddaughter in elementary school. He knows everyone here, and I don’t.

They’ll try to explain to me who so-and-so is. “You know, she was the one who got married in high school. Her mother worked for the dentist. You don’t know who that is? They grew up on 187.”

No, I don’t know who that is. This isn’t my hometown.

I see an older lady sitting across from me at church, and I wonder about her backstory. I knew all of the old women at my childhood church. I knew their families, their professions and even their ailments. Have to pray for Mrs. Betty. She’s having the migraines again. Mrs. Betty always had the migraines.

I never thought I’d miss my hometown, but I do. No, I don’t want to live there again, but I can’t forget my childhood or the place where I was raised. I miss thinking, although it was never necessarily true, “This town is mine.” wpid-20150123_110555-1.jpg

Sure, I’ve met many people and learned a lot of new stories since I’ve been living in my husband’s neck of the woods, and I’ve made wonderful friendships and bonds that have blessed my life tremendously, but I can’t help but think sometimes, as they discuss something unfamiliar that happened years ago, that this isn’t my town. I love this town. I really love this town, but it isn’t mine.

However, this is my children’s hometown. Like the sidewalk cracks, my daughter will one day dream of the manhole cover at the end of our driveway- the bumpy lid that rattled beneath her scooter’s wheels. My boy will remember the ball field where he would rather dig his cleats in the dirt than tag a kid on second. They’ll remember their teachers, their mud pies, their bugs in a mason jar, their childhood here in this small, southern speck on a map.

This is their hometown.

But it’s not mine.

“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”

Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

 

 

 

 

 

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About Susannah

I'm a freelance writer, blogger, aspiring best-selling author, wife of one and stay-at-home mother of two. I was chosen for the Top 13 in Blogger Idol and contribute pieces to The Huffington Post and Hahas for Hoohas. My work has also been featured in several humorous e-books, "Southern Writers’ Magazine", "The Humor Daily", "The Funny Times" and on the Erma Bombeck website. When I'm not putting pen to paper, bandaging boo-boos or spraying Shout on unidentifiable stains, I enjoy reading, playing the piano and teaching my children all about Southern charm. God has blessed me beyond measure and to Him be the glory forever.


32 thoughts on “My Hometown

  • Marilyn Sullivan

    You will have to come to the next family reunion and revisit memories with your elders and meet cousins yet to be met.

  • fancyranci

    This is so beautiful and inspires me to write down my vivid memories of a very similar hometown and upbringing. Great story!

  • Whitney

    Coming from a small, Southern town myself with my own little stories I love about the place… this post just warmed my soul from the inside out. Absolutely loved it.

  • Gary

    20 years ago I moved to my wife’s home. Only yesterday it hit me how much I miss where I grew up. This article inspires me to write down my memories and to travel back home more often. Thank you!!

  • Gary J. PeprmanMo

    My deepest thanks for stirring up the memories of “My Hometown”. I cannot help but shed a tear through the smiles and miles of good memories. I miss the simplest of things and yet detest the agonies of growing up. The ‘ying and the yang’ of it all.
    Great job Susannah!…as always.

  • Carmen Hooper Lewis

    I grew up in this same little town. Just a speck on the map to most, but not to those of us that grew up in Brownsville. Thanks for writing this! I have some of these exact same memories in a place that will always have my heart!

  • Bobbie Barcroft Simmons

    I think I Live in the house posted here…..Please tell me where it is located……….

  • Marilyn Stokely

    I also grew up in Brownsville, TN, a small speck on the map, and knew your dad Billy Brown Joyner. I still live here today, and love reminiscing about my childhood days growing up in this small hometown of mine. My 2 boys love hearing me talk of the good ole days where there were no cell phones, video games, a black and white floor model tv with limited channels to watch, and they just laugh and wonder what it would have been like growing up in my day. They also are glad they too grew up in a small town. Thank you for going down your memory lane, to remind us all of what a small town has to offer.

  • Nancy

    Billy Brown Joyner was one of my husband’s best friends. He loved to tell the story of the time Billy Brown hopped on a train thinking it was going to stop in a near by small town. However, it didn’t. It kept gaining speed and went to Memphis before it stopped. Billy Brown told David those movies showing people walking on the top of the trains were fake. He reported that when he tried to pull himself up above the train the wind was so fierce it almost knocked him off. He held onto the ladder until the train finally stopped and had to get a ride back home.

  • DrewHines

    I am a “fat southern preacher ” who absolutely adores your writing! I thin you’re one of the fresh voices of humorous Southern prose. Thank Gid you’re young. You’ll be writing for years to come! By the way, you referenced “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Check out the closing Linda of that book. They contain one of the most beautiful poems in modern literature…..”Something has spoken to me in the night.” You’d love it. Keep up the good work! Drew Hines, Greer, SC

    • DrewHines

      My goodness Susannah….I can’t spell! I meant to say “think” and “thank God” and “check out the closing LINES…not Linda. lol !!! Sorry.

  • Suzanne Kidwell

    Thank you for taking me back to my Pepaw’s corner
    grocery as a little girl in Ky. They were truly the best
    of times. Just wonderful!

  • Rhonda

    Loved your story!!! How do you remember all those details???? I am a lil jealous of your memory. Lol

  • Rhonda

    I loved your story!! How do you remember all those details??? I’m a lil jealous of your memory !! Lol

  • Kiley Jane

    Absolutely beautiful! Reminds me of my small speck on a map Hometown. I too go and set and talk to my Papa. Cry, laugh, sometimes sing him a tune. I love that town and all the memories made with him there. Hugs to you Susannah!! Thank you so much for sharing this special place with us. Xoxo

  • Alicia Smith

    Your little hometown is growing on me I moved here in 2008 and though I miss my hometown a little north of Atlanta,Ga…. I can never move back. When people find out where I’m from the first question is always “How’d ya end up here?” I always say my husband brought me! Haha ps I love your writing , You are Awesomely Hilarious and can pull on the heartstrings!

  • Lee Hood

    Thank you for a sweet trip down Memory Lane. Your description of growing up in your hometown is the 1950s description of my hometown, including my grandfather’s drug store in Mason, Tennessee. It is a challenge to grow up when you know or ar related to every single persons in town!

    It has been years since I’ve been with the Taylors reunion on Tabernacle Road, and I would bet money that Miss Fanny was Daddy’s first cousin.

    We get to Mason several times/year. My dad, brother and my son are buried in the family cemetery in the middle of a cotton field in Fayette County. My husband and I will be buried there, too.

    My sister and I inherited a farm in Haywood County, so sometimes we get to the USDA office in Brownsville. Part of the farm is in Tipton County. I’m looking forward to our next trip in March with my daughter and two granddaughters.

    Thank you for sharing your sweet story.

  • Gary Johnson

    Thank you, again. You have allowed me, in your words, to ‘go home’, again. A place that I love and miss from the ‘old day’. Not even close to what it was. But, the memories are sharp still, and I cherish them.

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