It’s been such a beautiful weekend here in south Georgia, and with tons of college football on television, Ted has been out with the guys for many hours, watching and yelling and doing what good ole boys do during football season – acting like rambunctious teenagers and reliving their own glory days on the football field.
In his absence this weekend, I’ve had some hours alone to sit on the porch, watch the sun sparkle on the water, and get totally into the book “My Name is Mary Sutter”, a Civil War tale of a young midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon in the days when females weren’t even allowed to enter medical school. There’s a lot of history involved, and very graphic scenes from the deplorable hotels-turned-hospitals where the wounded were brought. Not for the faint of heart – but, as a woman who once dreamed of nursing as a career, I always enjoy anything to do with medicine, whether it be medical shows on tv, medicine-based novels, or the work Bear and I do in hospitals now.
In some of those moments I’ve spent gazing out across the Flint River, my thoughts have turned to my home town of Sylvester, and I’ve begun to turn over in my mind doing a series of posts about the town and growing up there in the 50’s and 60’s. Looking back even now, I still see it through the romanticized eyes of a young girl and teenager, before thoughts of “What next?” ever entered my mind. Sylvester back then was an “Ozzie and Harriet” world where parents could allow children to play outside and roam the neighborhood, unrestricted by the dangers that lurk today. As an only child, I was probably one of the most “protected” of the gaggle of children who grew up together there, but even with that, freedom was a luxury we all enjoyed and pretty much took for granted.
My parents moved back to Sylvester from Columbus, GA when I was in the third grade. My mom grew up in Sylvester, and my dad spent his childhood in Poulan, a tiny community about seven miles east. Even though they had spent some time in Maryland (Daddy was stationed there in the Army for a while, and Mama moved there and stayed while he served in Africa during WWII), Albany, and Columbus, Mama never wanted to live anywhere but “home” in Sylvester.
One of my earliest memories after moving to Sylvester was the day I “ran away” from school. The elementary school I attended was only a few blocks from where we lived on Washington Street. In Columbus, Mama had always sent my lunch with me to school, but in Sylvester she and daddy decided I would eat in the lunchroom. I was a pretty picky eater back then, and my stick-thin legs showed it. I rode my bike to school every day and rode it home in the afternoons. I discovered pretty fast I didn’t like lunchroom food, and one day, after deciding the menu written on the blackboard was not to my suiting, I slipped out at lunchtime, jumped on my bike, and rode about half a mile down the road to Nelm’s Store, where I spent my lunch money on something I must have thought was a lot better than what the school was serving.
As I came out of the store and got back on my bike, my first cousin Pat got out of her car in front of the store. Pat was older by a few years than me and in high school. In those days, if you had a car, you could leave high school at noon and go home for lunch, and Pat was on her way home, stopping at Nelm’s to pick up something for her mom, my Aunt Lois (they lived a block from us).
As in all little towns, news traveled faster than the speed of light. Pat told my Aunt Lois about seeing me, and Aunt Lois called Mama, and Mama called Daddy (who worked in Albany at the time). I don’t remember where I was that day that they had to pick me up that afternoon, but when I climbed into the backseat of the car and saw their faces, I knew I was busted. What makes that ride home so memorable is it was the only time in my life my Daddy ever struck me. He was so upset to learn of my “runaway” that he pulled over to the side of the road, turned to the backseat and popped me really hard (well, to me it seemed really hard) on the leg. It was also the only time I can remember he ever raised his voice to me. Mama cried, which Mama always did when upset (I’m just like her in that regard). They went on and on about what could have happened to me – most of it related to the fact that I was on a paved road with traffic.
For the first time in my short life, that day I understood how much I was loved. As a child before that day, I don’t ever recall thinking of how my parents would feel if something happened to me. If I thought of mortality at all, it was to worry about what would happen if the unthinkable occurred, and one of them was suddenly gone. There was no further punishment for my folly that day. My shock at their distraught behavior was enough for me, and I remember promising to never do something like that again.
I don’t think the school ever even knew I left, which these days would be grounds for a law suit probably. My parents blamed no one but me – I did wrong, and I got punished. And that lesson on parental love came to me on many future occasions when making choices later in my childhood and teen years.
As I’ve written this, a voice has been whispering in my ear that perhaps my growing up in Sylvester is what drew me with such passion in my later years to the magic of Mackinac Island. I’ve often thought, and sometimes written, about how we are drawn, as we age, back to what meant so much to us in our early years – that we seek to rediscover those same, almost sacred feelings and thoughts in our golden years. I think we also seek the innocence we felt in childhood, and want to feel once again how carefree we felt growing up – loved, protected, surrounded by people who cared for us. Some of that I’ve found on Mackinac – the small town, the close-knit community, the lighting speed at which news – good and bad – can travel, the sense of belonging.
Over the next few months, I’ll share more stories of Sylvester and those innocent days of long, long ago. Maybe they’ll bring back memories of your own childhood that will make you smile – I’ve sure smiled a lot writing this today.
Oh, by the way, Pat – if you’re reading this – I forgive you for tattling.