Ames Memoir Stories: Introduction
Lessons from a Small Town: Introduction
“True stories can only be told backwards.”
The speaker’s message delivered on National Public Radio whispered in my ear as I motored down the PA Turnpike. It reminded me to get moving on my Ames memoir story collection. Pages of typewritten tales already filled a purple file folder in my den and more handwritten prose were stuffed in drawers and closets.
I can close my eyes and mentally transform myself back into a little girl in my hometown of Ames without any effort.
I was born the year Dwight D.Eisenhower was elected President. My older sibling arrived eighteen months before. Shortly after my debut in Ames, two more girls joined the family. Now four sisters shared two bedrooms in a two-story white wooden house with a red barn at the end of the driveway.
Mom stayed at home and wore an apron over her skirt whenever she was at work in the kitchen. At 7:15 am my father laced up his work boots and left in his yellow Chevy truck for the six-mile trip to the construction company that he operated with his father. Dad returned home at 6 pm and we all ate dinner in the dining room by candlelight. For an hour we took turns sharing our day’s events as we enjoyed the best home-cooked meals served on seasonal china.
In 1928 Ames had the distinction of being the smallest incorporated village in NY State. My town was described in the early 1940’s by E.B. White as the “…loveliest town of all…” during his upstate NY travels while writing Stuart Little.
Nestled in the Mohawk Valley, Ames made quite an impression on Mr. White. Chapter XIII of his classic book is titled Ames Crossing. Stuart’s tiny friend is Harriet Ames.
The colorful residents and beautiful countryside made quite an impression on me too.
Stuart was a tiny mouse and traveled in a miniature convertible.
I was an under-weight child and who cruised the uneven sidewalks of Ames on a red tricycle.
Ames had one street. Its residents usually didn’t lock their doors at night. Strangers were rare. The backyards of the town’s two hundred residents were my playground and provided me with unlimited adventures just like Stuart.
But it took me decades to appreciate the value of my personal journey. At age seventeen when I was in 12th grade, I craved to break away from the confines of my small town. I naively mocked the simplicity of my childhood in Ames at school. I boasted to my friends that I could hold my breath while riding from one end of town to the other. In turn they teased me by saying blink and you’ll miss it.
When I graduated, my parents drove me to college three states away. In the back seat of our station wagon I hugged my portable record player and my cherished Rolling Stones and Diana Ross albums. I stuffed a madras bedspread, several pairs of platform shoes, my favorite suede hot pants, and a plastic container of electric rollers and plenty of Yardley eye shadow in a blue trunk. I was leaving. I was going to study drama and probably be a movie star just like my namesake Kim Novak.
My sense of adventure propelled me to Spain for my junior year. I hitch hiked around Europe with an over flowing wine pouch and plenty of bread and cheese. I rarely showered, but I daily painted on Twiggy-style bottom eyelashes and smoothed ample light blue cream make-up on my upper lids. That year, I spent my spring break in Poland and the Soviet Union. In Leningrad I learned about trading American blue jeans on the black market for Russian trinkets in the dark of night.
Life was interesting far from Ames. I censored what I shared with Mom and Dad. It took fourteen days for an exchange of handwritten aerogramas to go back and forth across the ocean. An appointment had to be made at the international calling center in Madrid for a trans-Atlantic call home. The time difference between the continents made our communications sporadic. I was in charge. I wasn’t even twenty-one.
Yet I felt a curious comfort to regularly return to Ames as I matured. Whispers brought me back to my spiritual source to recharge. I longed for the familiar silhouette of the houses under the street lights. I wanted more bike rides down the nearby dirt roads. I missed the smell of burning leaves in the fall and fresh cow manure in the summers. These experiences paved my journey from innocence to experience. The hidden strength from these simple tales fortified my core. When I faced a crisis as an adult, they lifted me up.
So now I am putting my life vehicle in reverse and backing it up. My memories are vivid. They travel with me every day. I want to share them with you. I haven’t organized my stories in chronological order. Or in fact, in any order. I think it is best to surprise you and keep you guessing as we roll backwards together.
So climb in, buckle up and join me on a ride to a time when candy bars were full-sized, my birthday cake wasn’t made from a box mix and my red Keds turned into tap shoes with some carpet tacks and Orange Crush bottle caps.
I hope you can escape with me to …
“ the loveliest town of all, where the houses were white and high and the elm trees were green and higher than houses, where the front yards were wide and pleasant and the backyards were bushy and worth finding out about, where the streets sloped down to the stream and the stream flowed quietly under the bridge, where the lawns ended in the orchards and the orchards ended in fields and the fields ended in pastures and the pastures climbed the hill and disappeared over the top toward the wonderful wide sky, in this loveliest of all towns Stuart stopped to get a drink of sarsaparilla.” (E. B. White Stuart Little Chapter XIII Ames Crossing)
Next week look for my first story Lessons from a Small Town: Healthcare 101