I awoke today excited to revisit one of the many small towns from my youth. This one, Aberdeen, is the one I most closely refer to as my hometown because it is where I lived from the time I was 8 until I was 16.
It was a beautiful morning at the campground.
It is interesting to return to the places you grew up as a child. Some things remain the same. Some are altogether different.
Visiting Buxton’s Jewelry
Today, we visited Buxton Jewelry and Music to see old friends Lane and Bonnie. They were among the most faithful at that small First Assembly church when my dad pastored there. Lane could light up the ivories when he played piano on Sunday mornings.
I vividly remember a camping trip to the Smokies with Lane and Bonnie. It was a thrilling adventure for a kid when we spent a few days at the KOA, fished in the cool river, and finally caught our fill of trout at a stock pond. My mom made cornmeal battered trout, which I didn’t like at the time.
We woke one morning to find bear tracks up and over the car. And, we took a family tubing trip down the river. I’m fairly sure I still have bruises on my bum from the low-water areas and the rock speed bumps.
I’m sure those early memories are somehow foundational to the simple moments I crave in our adventures today.
Of course, it isn’t simply the experiences themselves. It’s the moments with friends. After all, what fun is it to retell old tales unless you can share them with the other souls who were there.
Lane was more than happy to drive us out to the new church that was constructed long after our family had moved away from Aberdeen where my father pastored. And, it was interesting hearing Lane, with a few soft tears in the corners of his eyes, talk about how my dad had contributed to the new name of the church — Healing Waters.
And so, today, I was able to share some old memories with Lane and Bonnie. Both of them are just as keen-witted as I remembered. Both of them are as gentle and kind as I remembered.
As we approach father’s day, it is always a joy to hear stories about your dad and how he made an impact on people that lasts today.
The Church Where I Got into Trouble
After a couple of hours there, we visited the small church where I grew up.
I told the kids a story of the time that I got mad at one of the other kids in the church who was teasing me. Like many children of the 80s, I was enthralled with Karate Kid. And so, I decided to crane kick Lee. I’m not sure whether Lee was more astonished, or whether I was that I actually made contact with his stomach.
Of course, he told his mom. His mom told the preacher (my dad). And, I found myself sitting on the short pew behind the pulpit for a few weeks as a testament to my misbehavior.
There was also the time my dad had to remove a dog who died of mange from behind the soda machine downstairs. You’ll see a trend in a bit.
The House with All the Animals
From there, we drove to the home that I often refer to as the “house with all the animals.” My dad has never been particularly appreciative of that description.
As a child, I remember raking carpets of pine straw from beneath giant pine trees around a tiny yellow house. One spring storm, a branch fell from one of those trees and knocked siding off of the top of one side. The exposed insulation made an ideal home for a burrowing squirrel.
Long after the squirrel moved away, our pregnant cat took up residence in that same burrow. She gave birth in the insulation while I heard every wail from my bedroom below. Eventually, that cat brought down her brood and placed them inside the screen door at the kitchen, an earnest effort for my soft-hearted mother to bring them inside.
That same house is where we heard a whimper one morning before school. After light sleuthing, we discovered that a puppy had wandered under the house and into a small drainage well. I climbed under the house and recovered the puppy.
The other dog under our house wasn’t as lucky. A large german shepherd had been tearing into the neighbors’ trash and killing some of our cats. The neighbors eventually had enough and introduced him to their shotgun. Their damage wasn’t instantaneous. He sought refuge under our house, where he died. We discovered him by his fragrance.
My father took a medical masks, doused it in Pine Sol, and then went under the house to recover the body.
That body, like other miscellany through the years, went on the burn pile. The burn pile was a large mound of pine straw behind the house. Somehow, my parents thought it was an acceptable job for an 11-12-year-old boy to tend to a giant burning pile of straw.
Another time, at that same house, a mother armadillo had her babies under the house. Every afternoon, she and her brood wandered across the yard to dig for food.
Those holes would eventually become homes for yellow jackets, who in fits of rage would cling to my tube socks while I mowed. It was utter misery.
Tired of listening to his son complain about being stung by yellow jackets, my dad decided to exact revenge upon the armadillos with a .22. They too went on the burn pile.
Then, there was the time I went to the shed to get something from the deep freeze for my mom. I heard a loud hiss from the rafters and looked up to see a very fat, very angry opossum. His teeth were bared. Some opossums play. That one didn’t.
There was the time I woke one night needing to walk to the other side of the house to use the restroom. As I walked barefoot across the linoleum, it felt like I was walking over Rice Crispies. I woke the next morning to find my father sweeping termites from the floor in the computer room.
By now, you can see why my dad doesn’t like me describing it as the “house with all the animals,” but it is entirely accurate. To me, those stories are an important piece of my childhood.
As with most things, the house I returned to isn’t nearly as epic as it seemed in my youth. There were busted windows. Half the property is overgrown with bushes and trees. Most of the pines have long since fallen or been chopped down.
It is a bit sad to see the ruin of that old house. But, the memories remain. In my mind, that little yellow house still sits atop a 10-acre hill (far larger than the property actually is). The land is covered in pine trees and straw. There is a plume of smoke in the backyard where my dad is burning a dead dog. I’m in the front yard burning an ant bed with a magnifying glass, while I am ironically getting a serious sunburn myself.
My sister is still driving my aunt’s car into one of those trees and pretending it never happened. And my dad is still forgetting that the house is on a hill, and if your brakes don’t work well, your car will be down the hill, across the street in the neighbor’s yard.
After a few more stories on a humid, hot Mississippi day, we did what the locals do. We hit happy hour at Sonic.
Bill & Jim’s Catfish House
As a husky kid (at least that’s what it said on my jeans) I remember the indulgence of going to get all-you-can-eat fried catfish and hushpuppies at a place called Bill and Jim’s Catfish House. It was a humble, metal building beside a small catfish pond. It was a taste of heaven.
Tonight we went to heaven.
There’s always a bit of a gamble when you visit a restaurant from your youth. Was it truly good? Or was it good because, aside from that place, the only places to eat in town were McDonald’s or Shelaine’s, the restaurant in the side of the motel down the street.
But, then you eat these and your childhood comes flooding back.
Our children had never experienced hushpuppies — at least, not like these. Sweet. Savory. Flaky. And still hot from the fryer. The girls gobbled them down and still wanted more.
Of course, the real event of the evening was my catfish, which absolutely had to be served whole, like in my childhood.
I didn’t take a picture of the carcasses that remained.
And to commemorate the visit, we added to their dollar trophies nailed to the rafters. (George Washington’s mustache is courtesy of Addie.)
A Few Other Events of the Day
There were only a few other notables from our day.
First, we thought we would save some wear on the camper by turning off the AC while we were gone. Bad idea — we came back and found a couple of huge wasps flying vigorously around the camper. I was elected to be pest control. Mission accomplished.
Lastly, we realized we were failures as parents when we discovered our children had never heard Weird Al. This issue has now been remedied.
Tomorrow, we continue our trek eastbound. By sunset, we should be in our next spot in North Carolina.