Sunday, March 15, 2009

Love Part Deux, And So Forth

*(Special thanks for the contribution of a significant phrase used in this entry to one of the most elegant writers I know, my old friend B.T., author of blog "A Little Guitar")


My husband calls my two-stoplight hometown a cult. "You're one of the few who got away," he says. He's joking. Partly.

But the place has a pull. It keeps the natives home when they certainly could go elsewhere. And draws them back, where a surprising number fall in love with people they walked the school halls with ages ago. Weren't those days supposed to be traumatic? I hear that so much from people. Well, not in my old stomping grounds, apparently.

Old grade school sweethearts are taking another turn on the dance floor in increasing numbers. The best friend's boyfriend is finally getting a shot, the one yearned for, from afar. Or somebody's little sister, even, barely noticed back then.

So, this keeps happening so often that someone in particular has started keeping a list. Because Cupid is striking again with such frequency. I have it on good authority that it is called Hometown Love Part Deux.

Okay, I confess, I keep the list. My sister collects the raw data and I edit the details into nice little bullets. Let's see...

1. M. dated T. forever, but she did go out with the other T. for a short time before they graduated high school. But he broke up with her. They married other people, both divorced. Years later, they got together and now they're married, living in her mother's old house.

2. KA married her high school sweetheart. They divorced after many years, when the kids were grown. KE married, well, at least two times. Divorced. Not sure when these two got together, whether they had looked at each other with yearning in their eyes. But now they are and are thrillingly happily. Are seen everywhere, holding hands like kids, glowing.

3. R.'s older sister D.A. was with star athlete R. forever. The know the type, the golden couple. They broke up, moved away, both married others. Then years later they are both back in town, older and wiser. Now they're back together.

And so it goes.

I keep the list because the new or renewed loves are happening so often that people were asking for the stories. And it's easier to prove my point this way. Skeptics who moved far away early and couldn't imagine themselves ever returning or coupling with someone from our origins are asking to see. I imagine them marveling and conjecturing. What if?

The place is no great shakes looks-wise, a bedroom community in the deep south halfway in between two for-real towns, one in Alabama, the other in Tennessee. It isn't even incorporated, literally a place you barely notice when you drive through.

My husband, meanwhile, comes from a little village in the Midwest that looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. Farmers sit on benches around a fountain in the pretty town square. In the summer, an orchestra plays at concerts on Wednesday nights and practically the whole town shows up. Popcorn and lemonade are sold. It is a lovely scene.

But population drain is killing that place.

So what is it about my little hometown, which I still call home despite living in the D.C. area for nearly 30 years.

There are jobs to be had, certainly. And rediscovering an old love is nothing new all over the world. Class reunions and the internet have made that possible. People say we look at our oldest childhood friends and don't see them for who they are. We see them for who they were. And on my fairly frequent trips home, that certainly is the case for me, with my friends. I don't notice when it happens, but a laugh, a nickname, a certain person's dimple suddenly will erase wrinkles, gray, decades of worry and even soul crushing grief.

But my little village was unique in other ways, I think, a mix of old and new, a chance destiny that resulted in a powerful hypnotic alchemy. It draws us home still, single and otherwise. All of us.

We shared the blissful oblivion of the young. Our parents raised us in the middle of woods and cotton fields, products of the rich red clay of the Tennessee River Valley. Scored by ponds, creeks and streams, nature then had the audacity to surround this lush vista with the storied, sometimes impenetrable Appalachian foothills.

And then this amazing thing happened.

After World War II, German scientist Werner Von Braun and his rocket team were brought to the United States as part of a secret operation. The men were quietly installed in Huntsville, AL, where they developed the rocket that propelled man to the moon on board the Apollo spacecraft.

People from all over streamed into Huntsville and surrounding farm villages to live, including my hometown to the north. School children in that era spent years being drilled to huddle under their desks in case of nuclear attack. But we had another, more heartening experience in our own back yards to distract us from that gruesome possibility.

We weren't just watching images of liftoffs on televisions. Our fathers, uncles, mothers, aunts and neighbors were working in the space effort. The big one we focused on consisted of sonic booms we felt from NASA tests to the south of us.

We were in history's flight path.

Which is the basis of my own hair-brain theory about why the past draws us back to our hometown so insistently, and binds us together, to others who can hear the same wordless song.

We didn't need to be astronauts, soaring over Earth itself, to feel the euphoria and hope of that generation's space exploration. We were living in the land of plenty, God's country indeed. A rural existence infused with the constant reminder of infinite possibility, of life soaring up and away with literally no limits.

Remembering, reliving it even, is easy because there were so many witnesses. And when we are together, and the timing is just right, suddenly we are back there again. Growing up, you see, in the shadow of the rocket.*


  1. how nice to see such a flattering mention in a blog that i enjoy so much. if only i could remember using that phrase!
    rgds -- bt

  2. You sure did! Don't remember when or why, but the phrase was a keeper.