This week we primarily saw overcast skies with chilly temperatures in the South. We did see sunshine, but it was only enough to make it pretty. The cool temps had a firm grasp on the thermometer. It is not, to me, the cold that should keep you out of the house. You certainly want some layers, but it’s no reason to avoid the outdoors, especially when you’re only in town for a few weeks.
On Sunday, we opened gifts with the immediate family. My two year old niece Adelyn got a tea set, and most of us got a turn having tea with her. It’s amazing to me how much she is interested in doing “grown-up” things. She’s still not clear on which container is for tea, cream, or sugar. She tends to try to pour all of them like tea. It’s also a good thing there isn’t actual tea in them, or there would be a lot of spills and overflowing cups. I taught Adelyn how to chink cups together. I would say, “cheers,” each time. I don’t know if this will stay with her, but I at least like the thought I’m planting little skills, little bits of knowledge.
Later in the day, I felt restless and wanted to get outside. My five year old nephew Elliot agreed to accompany me on a walk in the woods. I let him navigate, and we trekked through the forest toward Nana’s house. Along the way, we climbed and balanced on dead trees and looked at deer poop. Nana invited us in to cool off with water. Elliot got her toys out, while we continued some of our talk about her early years that I had recorded a few days earlier. I pulled out the plastic milk cart with wooden blocks in it that were made by my great grandfather. They are essentially scrap blocks of wood cut into squares that have been sanded down to smooth corners, by time and lots of use. I played with these blocks when I visited Nana and all the younger kids had too. I had completely forgotten them, but seeing them and handling them brought them back to my memory immediately.
Elliot wasn’t very interested at first, but I began to casually build towers with the blocks, and he got more and more intrigued. He began to build his own things, to alter the structures, to break them down and build new ones. Then, he began to incorporate our block buildings into a story with the Hot Wheels. I enjoyed seeing blocks of wood and a simple prompt inspire so much imagination and engagement. It reminded me of days I could stay occupied for hours with a few props and my own imagination.
Travel and movement through space do so many different things to a person. Whenever you go somewhere, you’re stimulating your senses. You see, smell, hear, touch, taste. There’s a lot going on just in that, but there’s so much more happening. If you are going somewhere you have been, you are experiencing that place in the present, but you are also experiencing pieces of your past when you were there before. You are remembering yourself then, what you did, who you were with, who you were back then. Anytime you go to a place, you go to many different places at once if your memory is working.
On Tuesday we went to Memphis to visit one of my foundational friends, Randall. He lives in Raleigh (a neighborhood in Memphis, for you out-of-towners). When I was in college at UT in Knoxville, I frequently made my way back west to visit Randall, Mark, Carey, and a list of other Memphis friends who migrated there over the years. I pointed out how the drive there on Highway 64 had changed over the years. How I remember it before the Wolfchase Mall and all the subsequent department stores and restaurants that followed. That familiar route was still there though. I felt more closely in touch with myself in the late teens and early twenties. I remembered some of what it felt like to feel that way, just by driving a familiar path.
We met Randall, who one of those friends who regardless of separation falls right into a normal, comfortable place when we are together. We played with his giant dog, Gracie, holding her off from sitting in our laps and licking our faces. I remember many nights spent sleeping over somewhere with Randall in Raleigh, back in the days when we would sleep anywhere, a love seat, three to a bed, on someone’s dirty carpet, on top of a pool table. We would stay up until the AM hours, music in the background, talking about the girls we knew, about movies we made up, about serious life stuff too.
Afterwards, we visited Ms. Wiggins who also lives in Raleigh. Ms. Wiggins is the mother of my good friend Mark who died in 2002. Of all the places we normally haunted on my visits, Mark’s house was our headquarters. Since his passing, many of us have adopted Ms. Wiggins as another mom, even though she has other kids. Ms. Wiggins welcomed us much like she had when our group came over 15 years ago. My wife Allyson got to see the house for the first time. I was visiting many times and places, many emotions at once. I thought about all the ridiculous stuff we did. All the jokes and games born there. I thought about how much I miss my boy, Mark.
Raleigh is known to be one of the declining areas in Memphis now. Most of the businesses I remember from 15 years ago have moved out. There was a mall there that was in decline even then, that is now basically a giant vacant building. You see a lot of chain link fences, a lot of grass growing in streets and sidewalk cracks. Still, there are clear pictures of this place in my mind that this is many, many things, and the story is still being written.
How interesting that as this year closes out, I would revisit so many times from my life, so many people and places from the past. At the end of the year, we typically try to gather with friends, we eat and drink more than we should, we hope to laugh and enjoy the waning moments of the year and the first moments of the new one. I remember many New Years too. Some I was glad to see go, some I kissed goodbye like leaving a close friend, some I met with great uncertainty and questions.
This week, I spent time in my sister’s new house which I saw for the first time on this trip. I spent New Years with James and Sarah in their new home in Nashville that I have only visited a few times. I saw several of my old friends in these places: Steven, Jason, Zach. I wonder what memories, what feelings are being planted in these places. I wonder what will rush back to me years from now if I pass through them.
Allyson and I came back to Murray to spend a few days with her parents. We dropped her brother Andrew off where he’s staying, the same house we lived in for two years just before moving in 2015. We drove down that familiar drive to get there, and it occurred to me how we had just gotten accustomed to some of these surroundings. Now, I have another new beautiful place I am getting to know, and I think in 2016 I am bound to form many memories that will cement it in me somewhere too. Each year we add more and more layers to this life. Every now and then there’s a line that connects them across the years and you get to make a temporary direct call to yourself. If my future self from somewhere off in the distance is looking back at me now, I’m sure he’s hoping that I’m soaking up every bit of this that I can.