I grew up in a small town in Indiana. My father’s family had lived in that same town for many years. I even had some of the same teachers that taught my dad. Many of my friends were children of my father’s schoolmates. You can’t get away with too much in a small town when you have aunts and uncles on every corner. It was a great place to grow up.
It wasn’t until I got married and moved to Florida that I realized just how sheltered my life had been. I’ve lived in South Florida for almost 29 years now and there are still times when I feel like “Ellie Mae Clampett goes to the city.”
Friends make fun of me for saying things like, “You can’t get blood from a turnip.” Apparently big city folk say, “You can’t get blood from a stone.” I still say, “down the road a piece” and “might as well, can’t dance and it’s too wet to plow.”
We didn’t go out much when I was growing up. Entertainment was found by visiting with friends and just hanging out. Our little town didn’t have a movie theatre, a bowling ally, or even a real restaurant. We NEVER went out to dinner. The only time we ate out was when we were traveling. I should probably say that not everyone in my hometown was as naive and sheltered as I was in the ways of the world. My first clue that I needed to expand my horizons came after Spring break 1978.
My best friend, Beauty and her sister, the Brain and I drove to Florida sans parental units. (For more info on our spring break antics and why I’m still grounded for life click: here.) We met some boys on the strip in Ft. Lauderdale one night. One of the boys asked if we were coming to the beach the next day. We said, “Of course, that’s what we’re here for.” We complained about how hard it was to find parking on the beach. He said that he worked at the Bahia Mar and though he wasn’t working the following day, we could mention his name and park at the hotel. “Just tell the guy at the gate that Paul, the valet parker, said you could park there.” It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the boy’s name wasn’t Paul duValet Parker but instead his vocation. I had no idea what valet parking was or that it even existed. For Pete’s sake, who needs someone else to park their car? Don’t be judgin’, people. Tractors drive down Main Street in my home town. Now stop laughing, I’m trying to tell a story here.
The town paper came out once a week and reported on local current events such as, “Mr. & Mrs. Jones were the guests of Mr. & Mrs. Smith for dinner on Sunday afternoon. Roast beef with mashed potatoes was served. Coffee and cake were enjoyed after dinner. A good time was had by all.” There was also a section called Backward Glances. This is where you could read about how 10 years ago Mr. & Mrs. Jones hosted Mr. & Mrs. Smith for dinner. My grandmother was a big contributor to this column and I always took great pleasure to read my name in the paper even if it was just to say that I went to Grandma’s for dinner and ate ham.
I remember a headline that read, “Half the police force quits!” It was three people.
We never locked our doors. Daddy was always worried that someone might need to borrow something and wouldn’t be able to get in. It was quite common after returning from a day trip or a week’s vacation to find friends watching tv and enjoying snacks in our living room awaiting our arrival.
When I was twelve, one of our two banks in town was robbed. It was a Friday around 6pm in January. My mother had stopped on her way home from work at the newstand to pay the water bill (That’s where you paid the water bill as we didn’t have a town hall at that time) and while there, she bought a magazine. She left the newstand and started walking to the bank to deposit her paycheck. She was leafing thru the magazine and not really paying much attention to her surroundings. As she approached the bank, she noticed a man standing just outside the bank wearing a ski mask. She didn’t recognize the man but it’s a small town and she figured that she did know whoever it was underneath the mask. She was just about to say, “It’s not that cold.”, (Did you think I got this Smart Mouth on my own?) when she noticed the gun in his hand. She quickly did an about face and attempted to walk to the grocery across the parking lot. The bank robber put his gun in my mother’s back and forced her into the bank. No one was harmed inside the bank. However one of the town’s police officers was shot as they escaped.
The FBI was at our house several times that summer. It was all very exciting to me. Mom was the only customer from the bank that testified at the trial. It never occurred to me until many years later how traumatic this was for my mother. She was scared stiff to be alone at night and I never knew it. The doors were always locked after that if Mom was home alone.
I married My Harley Stud at the tender age of 19. I have to laugh now when I see how crazy people get with wedding plans. Our wedding was planned in six weeks. My dress was bought off the rack and altered. I did my own make-up and my mom french braided my hair into tucked up pigtails underneath my veil. Oh.yes.she.did.
We were married by the Reverend Xen Harvey (who also officiated at James Dean’s funeral) . Xen was very special to me. I still smile when I remember how he always referred to his beloved wife as Betty Harvey. I don’t think I ever heard him say just Betty. And he looked a lot like Captain Kangaroo. How can you not smile at a memory like that?
Xen Harvey rode a motorcycle too. It wasn’t long after Daddy showed me how to ride his Kawasaki 400 that I pulled up to Xen’s house and asked his grown son if Xen was home and would like to go riding with me. He wasn’t at home but later told me that he couldn’t have gone anyway. He said, “Can you imagine the tongues of the little old ladies at church waggin’ about me riding with some pretty young thing!”
Xen got a great kick out of telling that story at every gathering of which I was a part. I heard it at my rehearsal dinner, The Saint and the Biker Nazi’s rehearsal dinner and many times over the years. I was honored to be there for Xen’s funeral and his son mentioned to me how much pleasure Xen got from telling that story. Me? I really didn’t see the big deal and never understood why he couldn’t have gone.
My 30 year class reunion is coming up soon. I’ll be travelling back to my hometown this summer. Simpler times in a quieter place keep running thru my mind. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
What takes you back?