The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rank Stranger in My Old Home Town

Have you ever been back to the town where you were born and lived for awhile as a child, say from birth to your 7th or 8th year? Back to the place where you were in the early dawn of your youth?

What a strange feeling it is.

Because you've grown up and your perspective has changed, everything that once looked so big, is now much smaller. And, since fifty or sixty years have passed, everything is different.

You remember the funniest things.

There's the little frame house on Richland you lived in back in the '40s. It was raining and you sat on the porch swing playing a cardboard horse race game where you spun a little needle around and you moved each horse piece accordingly. Citation always seemed to win. You can still smell the clean rain and hear the soft rumble of summer thunder.

Out on Main, there's another old house you remember. You were sitting astride your bike back in 1945 when Jerry's Mom came out of the house crying and said the war was over. You'd never seen anyone cry because they were happy before. The old house still stands, but its paint is peeling and the porch sags.

The highway bridge on Main, right by the shirt factory hasn't changed. The thick concrete top rail is still rough to your hand, but you have to bend down now to see between the short concrete cylinders supporting it. The creek looks smaller than it did in the '40s. You remember that you and Kenneth sometimes slipped under the metal rail at the edge of the bridge, climbed down the rocks, and walked on the smooth brown stones to a spot under the bridge where you could see the crawdads and minnows swimming in the shallow water.

Uptown now, on the square, there's the old insurance office where your Aunt Lellye used to work. You spent a few afternoons in there spinning around on her wooden lean back desk chair, watching the ceiling fans, or watching Mr. Smith play with his straw boater hat. He was a skinny guy who wore seersucker suits and bow ties and made you laugh.

The little wooden bandstand in the center of the square is gone now and probably forgotten. That was where they had a radio set up back in 1948 and you and your grandma were in the crowd listening as the presidential election returns came in. You remember the smell of cigars and cigarettes. The crowd seemed happy, yet quiet, listening carefully to the words on the radio. Occasionally, when the radio announcer said something, a few people would clap or cheer or sometimes laugh.

Scott's drugstore where you drank your first milkshake stands empty now, its brick facade faded and worn. Blind Mr. Adams' little market where you sometimes bought Double Bubble or Super Bubble gum was torn down long ago.

All of the older people have passed away, and the young ones you knew moved on long ago. If you see someone on the street or perhaps you stop in a store for a coke, the people look strange, you don't recognize anyone. And they look at you the same way, like you're a complete and utter outsider, a stranger, a rank stranger.


  1. The people and buildings are not the same, but the neat part is you can "go home" anytime you want in your mind. I can see the faces and remember the stories as though it was yesterday.
    I can also remember an evening, there in the hollar we murdered "Rank Stranger" trying to get it right! The more boo's we had the better it sounded, least we thought so!

  2. Ed, I believe you've hit on the secret of our pickin' and singin' success! Even though it may've sounded (and smelled) a little rank to anyone else, it always sounded better to us with one more Boo! And on those rare nights when we sipped a little Cutty, we sounded better than Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.

  3. Have you ever been back to the town where you were born and lived for awhile as a child, say from birth to your 7th or 8th year?

    Sorta, but it's hard to do when you were dragged around the world at an early age, i.e., were a mil-brat. I DID take The Second Mrs. Pennington to see the house I lived in when I was eight years old, which is all the further back memory can carry me. You'd be amazed... well, check that: YOU wouldn't be amazed, based on this post... at how fast and furious the memories came rushing back, triggered by the oddest little thangs. What a rush that was!

    Nice post, Dan.