Our hometown is our touchstone where the seeds for a good life were sown. Why oh why did it take me my whole life to see it?
In the small town of Hannibal, Missouri, when I was a boy, everybody was poor and didn't know it, and everybody was comfortable and didn't know it. ------Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
In my small town, everybody was each other's resource, but I didn't know it. ------G. Hill.
Our small grocery store was a short walk whenever my mom needed five pounds of sugar or another quart of milk.
“Put in on the bill”
That was what I would say to Mike, who owned the store. Families relied on a tab when the money wasn’t there for another loaf of bread or some luncheon meat. Mike would take a pencil stub from its perch on top of an ear and write down what we owed on a coffee-stained piece of paper. Everyone had a tab.
But I was to learn a different kind of tab.
The day came when I tested the limits of “put it on the bill”.
I was walking home from school on a bright sunny afternoon, thinking how good it would be to bite into a sweet chocolatey Devil Dog. The Devil Dog was a chocolate cake in the shape of a hotdog bun. Inside was a sweet layer of marshmallow. My favorite. Five cents.
I walked into the store taking in the familiar sharp essence of salami and cheese. While other customers were chatting about the news of the day, I went straight to the shelf with all the sugary confections, grabbed a Devil Dog, proudly walked up to the counter and said in my best grown-up voice,
“Put it on the bill”.
With one raised eyebrow, Mike looked at me with questioning eyes.
“Does your mother know about this?”
“Oh yes”, I lied (too easily).
Hmmm. The kindly storekeeper continued to study my face, which made me extremely nervous. From the back of the store, I heard the grating sounds of coffee grinding and I knew that for me, trouble a-brewing.
By the time, I reached home with that Devil Dog sinking heavier and heavier in my stomach, my mother was waiting at the door. The look on her face said it all. Even before I took that first bite, Mike paused his work and dialed my mother.
Each step on my walk back to the store with a nickel held tightly in my sweaty hand was a steady beat of recrimination. I kept practicing the two sentences I was about to pronounce to Mike and to anyone else in the store.
I am very sorry Mike. I did not tell the truth.
And this became my memory that would linger; the quiet gift to hang on to. I learned that Mike was more concerned with the devil in my ear than that five cent Devil Dog.
Childhood is the hometown everyone came from. ------Garrison Keillor
Heart and Soul: Properties of Our Hometown
In my hometown, and probably yours, Sunday mornings were spent in Church and Sunday afternoons were spent at the ball park. Both forged the quiet gifts; nourishment for our hearts and soul. Church fed the soul. Baseball served up the heart. You make a good play and suddenly everything is possible. But pride in self can ring loud, can over-shout all proportions of reason, then just as suddenly, it can all go flat. Bad calls puncture the very fabric of right and wrong but in sport, there is no time to wallow. The coach wants you in the game. So much heart and passion, forged with a sense of right and wrong were the touchstones on which to hand our caps. Rain or shine, highs and lows, we were expected to be true to our moral compass, keep practicing, and stay in the game. I can still feel that sweaty nickel in my hand, walking back to the store. I am forever part of that teamwork of fortitude, even in the midst of great disappointments. These are the touchstones of our lives.
John Fogerty’s Put Me in Coach, I’m Ready to Play Today, We’re Born Again, New Grass on the Field