My hometown exists simply because it is the exact midway point between Memphis and Birmingham, so the Kansas City, Memphis and Birmingham Railroad put a stop there to service their trains.
Amory, Ms. is a small (7k inhabitants), fairly insignificant railroad town. My grandmother's father ran the hotel there at the turn of the twentieth century. She used to tell me about standing on the platform and waving at the passing troop trains... both WWI and WWII. The most exciting thing I can remember happening there in my lifetime was being awarded a lock on the Tombigbee Waterway. Three of my four grandparents were born and died in that tiny town. The fourth left on one of those troop trains and was fortunate enough to be brought back home for his burial. Most weren't so lucky in them days.
She is is a good town, with good people. They don't have a lot, but to say they are poor is a lie. They are happy, mostly. They are content with God, America, and Family. They work hard, play hard, and they care about one another, although they are distrustful of outsiders. You would be too if all you ever got was screwed by'em. Fun fact; the Apache word for stranger is the same as the Apache word for enemy. It is no different with someone from Amory.
Even I am looked at with suspicion there. I, who call it my hometown. That is because I never lived there. I was born there, and taken away for a job. Funny thing is, the last time I walked down Main Street in Amory an old men walked over to ask if I was "Big Bill's Boy?" I am not. I am in fact Big Bill's Grandson, but it about made me burst with pride, anyhow. Big Bill died in 1969. The family I have left in Amory are all in the ground, but one day I hope to go back, to lie with them, to make it "my hometown" for real.
In the meantime, I just call it home.
lessons, around the block
big enough to hold the leash now,
she asks, “is that one apartments?” so
I explain counting mailboxes,
and that one’s a single family – you always
like their Halloween candy - but count this
one, four boxes affixed to the green
Victorian, two Direct TV dishes;
they built big back then, and
many in town were broken up
“like our neighbors” she says, “but not ours,”
and I say yes, like our neighbors,
like Miss Jeanne who gardens and
lets you pick peppers, or
Mrs. Johnson walking Bernie the
Dachshund, or Tom who repaired that
old red truck and moved when
his brother’s health failed;
I do not bring up the apartments across
the street where flashing red and blue
came for the stabbing and dealing last summer,
but she’s focused on our dog now anyway
because we’ve come to the porch where
that old woman smokes and keeps a sleeping
bag for her son, and she always steps down
to rub our beagle’s belly and floppy ears
No Town Iowa
We cannot help but be shaped by the world outside our childhood window.
Mine was a hillside with trees and a red barn
at the bottom a creek
I explored with my brother
full of minnows and wonders.
On that hill I watched a world that changed predictably with the seasons
the land around the barn beyond the trees went from snow covered white
to fresh turned black soil smelling like earthworms
then the plants came
springing up in neatly spaced rows
growing tall in the summer sun
so fast it was said that on sultry night you could hear that corn grow
ears emerging from curly silken threads
along with the flicker of lightning bugs and crickets chirp
then one day
we in our new shoes waiting for the school bus
would look and see the stalks turned brown
and we’d come home and the machines had come
leaving only bare brown stubble.
It happened every year of my life
and is still happening.
When you grow up in a place like that
you get embedded with a sense of time and purpose.
You know every phase in life is temporary
and no matter how high the creek rises
or how severe the drought sounds from the man on the radio
or even when the person who owns the red barn dies
the cycle will always continue.
Dust and Grace
There’s a street in my hometown that has seven churches on it. Some of these are huge, non-denominational mega-churches, the kind with jumbotrons, stadium seating, and lobbies full of Playstation 4s. Preachers alternate between fire-breathing screeds about sin and damnation, and dulcet-toned entreaties to give back to the Kingdom (it’s for Jesus after all). Just up the road, rusted cars on blocks sit in front of houses with walls of decaying stucco and hungry dogs chained to wire fencing.
All of those churches, and this town can’t find within itself a sliver of forgiveness, mercy, or grace. It’s an unkind place.
Unkind. If I had to use a single word to describe it, it might be that.
Now I grew up there, and I had a great childhood. Much of that was in spite of this town, I’m sure, not because of it, but it couldn’t have been all bad, so this place has to have its good parts too.
One day every Spring, the park across from my house would turn into a festival overnight, with food trucks, striped tents, balloon animals, carnival games, and the best street corn and funnel cakes you could ever have. On those long Spring and Summer evenings it was the kind of place you could run off with your friends and not come back until sunset at 8 at night, exhausted and happy.
And it could be a beautiful place too. Not the town itself so much. It was mostly squat blocks of concrete barely rising out of the high plains, but if you got to the outskirts of town, the sky stretched endlessly to a broad and curved horizon, and radiated hues of blue, purple and red you don’t often see.
Storms would rage across the plains, swift and furious, and the desert air, parched for water, would smell like rain for hours after they had gone.
I would ride my bike to the house of an old family friend and we would drink bottles of Coca Cola and build pinewood derby cars in the wood shop in his garage.
Those hills and plains are streaked with beautiful memories like veins of ore. But I have to dig for them.
Yet through it all it’s the unkindness that sticks with me. The streets are broad and sun-bleached, lined with street-lights shaped like alien heads and dusty banners adorned with American flags and crosses, promising freedom and salvation but offering no semblance of either. At night, it’s a dangerous place, plagued by knives and gun shots and a higher violent crime rate per-capita than Chicago.
There is destitution, addiction, unemployment, and loss. But these can be conveniently overlooked from the sloping sanctuaries and radiant stained glass. They don’t put those sorts of things on the jumbotron after all.
The town stays what it is, and likely always will. I’ve moved on, but I still think of it sometimes. I remember the broad green lawns, the barbecues, the tire swings hanging on sycamore trees, having to wear shoes in the park across the street because of the broken glass, and the time one of my best friends had to dodge 9mm rounds outside of a strip mall. Places, like people, can be complicated.
One late summer night, I remember sitting in the bed of my buddy’s F150 on the hills above town, with a six pack of Tecate and some cigarillos we bought from the Circle K, talking about the future, and our hopes and dreams. Far in the plains below, the low lights of the town flickered beneath a vast and starry sky. Out there, that far from the big cities and that high, the stars are magnificent, and the milky way cuts through the heavens.
I remember thinking that if those lights were to wink out, the panoply of stars and galaxies far above wouldn’t even notice, would not be diminished. There would still be so many lights in the darkness, so many other other places, so many other choices to make. And, just maybe, some of them would offer greater chances for mercy, forgiveness, and grace.
What is there to say about it really?
Broken homes and pregnant teens
Mothers working , father's drinking, the regular scenes
Young boys acting like wannabe thugs
Drug addicts ravaging the streets like wild dogs
We cursed at each other and fought for free water
Right by the same building they built for prayer
Dirt roads and rundown houses
Dark alleys, prostitutes in stolen blouses
There were nights I was woken by the screams
Of the terrified little kids
Fathered by my neighbour who beat his wife
Once, almost messed her up with a knife
Nobody ever came, everyone too busy with his own life
And always above it all,
The roar of airplanes flying low over our roofs,
ready to touch down in the airport not so close by
The screech of the metal train tracks, hovering above the streets like a hill,
Right where the sun set
The scream of the horn as the train approached fast
With more people on it than in it
not many people with a dime around here
I never figured how they even got up there
But then the occasional laughter
And friendly bargains over the counter
Even though everything sucks
New Year gets everyone smiling at the fireworks
Doors open at midnight over several blocks
Celebrations usually start down at the docks
And mothers pray for their daughters
sons protect their sisters
& neighbours still look out for each other
For whatever reason they do it, it doesn't matter
In a way, we have all always been quite in this together.
What's there to say really?
Except maybe I would have picked a better hometown
Still, I wouldn't change how things really went down.
the town in the bottle
For all the times I'm drunk on the idea of New York City and Amsterdam, I long for my small hometown as I reach the bottom of the bottle. I live in a big city now, as Sinatra said, "I [...] wake up in a city that never sleeps." but my parents still live in my hometown, my sister still goes to my high school, and my dreams still take place back home. We took small town football quite literally, playing 6 man football under bright lights. We didn't even have a stadium, it was more of a field, and small bleachers, so most of us were on the sidelines with the team. But don't let that fool you, I can make you want to go back to somewhere you've never been.
You hate it until you miss it. A chilly Friday night with crowds cheering, and you realize, as the warm breeze kisses your skin, you'd rather be here than anywhere else in the world. I'd watch the rolling pastures around us during halftime, wondering how it would feel to sit in that tall grass forever. I'd like to ride down Main at midnight again, go to the square and eat with friends, and smell the scent of home, however weird it might be. I want to return to the small back roads, and watch the sunset as I ride up and down the hills, and open my window at 2 a.m. to watch the moon with my telescope.
Half of us walked away at graduation, never wanting to look back. Some of us just wanted to find ourselves in the world. But my god, my hometown is still made up of the people who cheered at football games and have a soft spot for Texas. My hometown is made up of the village that raised me. They tell me I'm the lucky one, but sometimes, I think I'd give up the high rise apartment for the ranch house overlooking the hills.
I never understood wanting to come back, because I always wanted to get out. I still do, but I want to come back. The truth is, the bright lights become blinding, and the rush becomes dull. The speed makes you dizzy, the wonder becomes scarce and the dream seems farther. I guess I'd like to be like a boomerang, knowing how ever far I go, I'll always return. Sometimes, if you listen closely, and I mean really closely, you'll hear the laughter of people before you. Maybe at the ice cream shop, the local park, or even the Kroger parking lot. If you look closely, you'll see where generations collide and stories unite.
Because you can get halfway around the world and at some point, you'll miss being where everybody knows your name. I think parts of me belong in the far corners of the world, at the tops of mountains, and in small bars in the Irish country side. I do belong in the streets of Amsterdam and in the seas of the mediterainian and the South African cape. But I also belong in the long grass of my High School football fields, I belong to the midnight streets and stars. I belong to my hometown.
Steel Town USA
Everything in my town is steel.
Pulled steel, welded from steel, built from steel.
Even the people.
In my town we rise early and go to bed late. People work hard, and the work is hard. But we don’t want it any other way. We live with our work. It is set against our hillsides like metal mountains. Stacks bigger than our city and we pray it grows bigger. It puts food on our tables.
We are prideful, producing people.
We decorate our porches for every holiday. With twinkle lights for Christmas. There is not a person in this town that doesn’t know someone I know, and they will know you too. That’s just how they are.
There are flower baskets hanging from every corner. The streets here are cleaned, but if you wipe your finger down the buildings they are not.
There is a black soot that lays like a protectant on their faces. It gets cold here. When it snows we joke and say that we are northerners. We are not.
The cars are more than likely to slide on the icy hills because tires are expensive. If you are here, get a truck. With 4x4.
Brought Back by the Pandemic
I lived away from my hometown for approximately 6 years and moved back about a year ago. I left my hometown due to trauma that was preventing my growth and healing from progressing. I moved to a much safer, quieter, and smaller town. It was lovely and an incredible place to live. During those 6 years, I faced many tumultuous times, but also found the healing and growth that was vital for my livelihood. When the pandemic hit, I became worried about my father. Him being elderly had me concerned since he was considered high-risk. My father and I didn't always have the most healthy, stable relationship as I was growing up, but in those 6 years that I was away, we grew closer than ever. Hearing news of people losing loved ones to Covid hit me hard. I became so frightened for my father and felt this pull to get closer to him. After many conversations with my significant other, we decided to make the move to my hometown to be closer to my dad.
It was difficult to leave the wonderful town and home we had to go back to my hometown where the violence and crime rate is one of the highest in the nation. I also didn't realize how hard it would be to move back to where all my trauma began. I assumed that the healing I found from being away would prepare me for being back, but I was wrong. Memories, anxiety, and depression came flooding in and the first few months were extremely difficult. However, I found an incredible therapist who has helped me work through my emotions. I'm finally starting to find my footing out here again. Now, I'm able to be centered and calm enough to enjoy the time I'm having with my father. The mindfulness and gratitude practice that my therapist has taught me has been impactful. I'm still not exactly where I want to be emotionally and mentally, but I feel like I'm heading in the right direction.
Even though my hometown is not perfect or ideal, it has character and charm. There is a lot of diversity here and delicious food, both which make me happy. The weather is more mild, as well, which makes for more time to enjoy the outdoors. My hometown will always have a special place in my heart and I'm happy I made this move to be closer to my dad. Do I want to stay here for the rest of my life? I'm not sure, but I imagine I will move away from here again sometime in my future. When we first moved, I was regretting it tremendously, but I'm happy to say that, now, I feel that I made the right decision. For many people, including myself, the pandemic has made us realize the importance of family and loved ones. As hard as the pandemic has been, I'm glad that it has brought me closer to my dad.
Father born there, father died there
I was born and grew up there, too.
Riverside walk park
with ancient trees
and Native American
7 square miles with
28 churches and
22 bars and
4 good places for ice cream.
houses from the 19th century
lots of people walking dogs
and 2 senior living homes
farmers market once a week
art shops open late
there used to be a coffee place
that I would go and sit in.
gets decorated every season
my favorite is the summer time,
and the beautiful flower garden
underneath the clock tower.
The places that I’ve grown up in
Have informed me of who I am
The tides of island waters
Have shaped me like the sand
I grew up like the skinny palms
My skin kissed by the sun
Birds of paradise greeted my window
And everywhere did I run
I’ve spent some time in humid suburbs
More than I’d like to admit
But it’s the times spent in nearby mountain creeks
To my memory, I do commit
The places that I’ve grown up in,
I have shaped them too
I took the oceans and the sands
The mountains and the little woodlands
And to my heart, I did imbue