On a regular basis, you can see my little red car making the trek from our little acre at Nashs Ford to my mother's home about 25 miles away. If the weather is cooperative, and there is not road construction to worry about, I take what I call in my mind the back way. I drive out New Garden Road to Honaker, turn left towards Swords Creek, drive through Raven and Doran and into Richlands. I timed the drive Wednesday. About 40 minutes. US 460 is the main route through Richlands, there is a 460 Business and a bypass. 460 through town is interesting, because most of Richlands' business district is one way streets.
I could almost write an unofficial history of that little town. I was born there in 1958, and my father graduated from high school there in 1931(?) Confession time: Details like dates often scramble in my mind, not because of age - I have always been this way. From the house we moved to when I was in the second grade (at The Trinity House) to the middle of town where the old National Guard Armory/current Police Department is located is about a mile. The Mullins Professional Building is across Second Street from the Police Department and was previously part of a complex of about four buildings that comprised the Junior High School where I was schooled for grades 7 and 8. I walked to and from school frequently when I was in Junior High.
Very close to the old Junior High building (about a block to the east) is Richlands First Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church. We began attending 1st Christian before I started school. I frequently walked to and from the church as well. Further west was the Flannery Theatre, where I saw Gone With the Wind whilst still in elementary school, and the fascinating combination swimming pool/drive-in where I learned to swim as a preteen and watched MASH as a teen.
There were very few places that were unexplored by that young Ellen throughout the 1960's and 70's. Whether on foot, by bicycle, or 'cruising' with friends in cars, I was intimately familiar with all neighborhoods and most streets and alleys in my hometown.
Now, when I go to Mom's, to that same house I spent about 16 years in, I drive those same streets:Front Street going east through town to go to Mom's and Second Street west to return to the land I now call home. I am usually alone, and I drive through layers of memories each time. Past events drift through my mind. The silly and the sublime. The ecstatic and the pathetic. There are days when by the time I have made that 3 mile drive from the spot where once there loomed a drive-in screen over a swimming pool complete with diving boards (!) I am weepy nostalgic. Other days, I am almost bubbling with laughter. But that drive through town always has an effect. Always. Often, I will return home by another route, because I have picked up too many wisps of the past on the way into town and I am apprehensive of the ones that are waiting for my next pass.
There is that time of the evening, when the sun had almost dipped below the mountains and night is edging in across the valleys that is called the gloaming. Yesterday I headed down US 19 in the gloaming, thinking to avoid those lingering ghosts of times and actions I had stirred two hours earlier and I knew again a truth I have carried with me for most of the past 30 plus years. I wear my past like a mantle of guilt and sorrows, have done so for years. There are memories so sharp and intrusive that I can hardly allow them to rise from my subconscious long enough to admit their reality. Events and actions that I carry heavy in my core, never sharing or unburdening onto another. Bit by bit, at sporadic intervals, I will gingerly, delicately cup them in my soul's palms, trying to smooth the cutting edges and ease the raw pain that echoes across the years. These ghosts that I drive through each time I am in the town of my youth, they are persistent, but I have decided I am tougher.
I rant and rail against being defined by my childish errors and youthful abandon. In my own way I have been bloodied in battles few will ever know were waged, and my losses though many do not add up to the sum of who I now am.
So yes, I do indeed wear that mantle of guilt and sorrows, too often it settles on my shoulders, not bringing warmth and comfort but rather a dragging weight I know I can not long bear. It is now time for me to weave a new cloak and wear it well. One of fine spun silk gathered by in the misty promises of hope and comfort that will settle well on the present Ellen, and stand the test of the decades I have yet to add to the beauty I know my life can yield.