With this week’s prompt, I admit, I was inspired by the fact that I had been reconnecting with some of my old friends from our rather unique hometown (unique in that it belongs to us) and thinking about how even on the other side of the planet, the place still has a hold on me. This is not a unique feeling, I know, which is why it makes for an interesting prompt. Of course, several people commented that they did not have a hometown, something they share with my own children who have been dragged all over this mad world by their restless mother. This has resulted in my children being envious of my roots, of having a shared place to remember. Sure it is just a place but our hometowns (or lack of them) shape us, more than we would probably like to admit.
This week, we have a collection of excellent hometown tales from Sunil Sharma, Lesley Crigger, Kelli J Gavin, Elena Bitner, Julie Wakeman-Linn, and myself.
Such diverse perspectives on an idea that many of us take for granted as being a universal experience, I am sure you will enjoy reading these as much as I did.
Thank you to all the contributors and be sure to return next week for a new prompt on Monday.
Memories of a small town
Maxim Gorky in north India!
Back then, Ghaziabad was liberal and art loving. Tree-lined roads; quaint bungalows; big parks; schools, colleges and hospitals—an ideal address.
It was his hometown—neat, ordered, tranquil, educated, liberal, middle class.
And truly cosmopolitan.
On that evening, returning home, he found a solitary bookshop on the Station Road. And the Master there!
His life-long tryst with the Russians began that instant. Every fortnight, the young man would trudge there for a Pushkin, Gogol or Chekov. Gave tuitions, saved money for the classics; hard cover and well-produced, yet affordable for a lower-middle-class student, doing an M.A in English.
The shop slowly became a magnet for the enthusiasts: over cups of chai, debates over the Immortals and comparisons with the French and the English were conducted. The translated books in Hindi and English, mainly from Russia, were displayed there, along with some Hindi magazines and stationery items. The owner was a failed writer and wanted to make a living by selling literature of a foreign country in a dusty town, 28 km away from Delhi, the Capital of a post-colonial country.
The literate town did not disappoint the bookseller.
Ghaziabad was getting urbanized and industrialized fast in the 1990s. A bunch of idealists tried surviving in that bleak space by staging a Brecht and/or holding poetry sessions, Ghazal evenings, painting exhibitions, some place or other.
It was pure oxygen!
The initiates would discuss Kurosawa, Ray, Fellini or Osborne.
Often, international film shows were held through a film club; being artist was bliss for the out-of-the- job dreamers, young rebels!
A lean and intense man, Raghav Verma was deeply attached to his town: Still small— every street, face and café, familiar. Neighbours=family. People smiled at the strangers.
You truly belonged there.
… death of Pa altered things forever. He had to seek a job. The town suddenly grew very small and stifling! No opportunities. He bid a teary farewell to a place whose winds and waters had nourished a yearning soul and body…akin to bidding goodbye to a poor mother!
Reality sank in. He left for Mumbai in the late 1990s and found a calling as a screen- play writer. He got money and recognition in a mega city of million aspirations.
Ghaziabad became a receding landscape. A different age!
On a recent visit in 2018, after more than a decade, he found his hometown transmogrified!
Ghaziabad had grown heavy and ugly. The old lanes brimmed with shops. Each street was a mini-market. Malls, multiplexes, bars.
Ghaziabad— an open baazar. Fancy cars. Bikes. Pizza and Big Mac outlets. Beauty- massage parlours.
Where is his Ghaziabad?
Small becoming big; big, bigger; a mad race!
He searched for old cultural landmarks—the bookshop, old cafés, theatres.
Ads of deep discounts; happy hours and sales, in every corner; everything was on sale.
Sadly, Gorky has been exiled by Porsche…forever!
Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.
Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:
For more details, please visit the blog:
More Secrets Everyone Knows
The trouble with small towns is they’re full of secrets. Secrets the entire community knows but never admits to outsiders.
Everyone knows Deputy Dodd sells moonshine from the trunk of his cruiser. Moonshine Otha Queen distilled on the back 40 of his crabgrass choked property. Everyone knows because everyone buys it. Including the pastor that crawls up into the pulpit every Sunday morning and preaches a 45-minute sermon on which new and exciting way you’re going to hell, not limited to hard rock and diet Pepsi. The same pastor that dons a white hood once a month, strikes a match and burns a cross. If you ain’t white you don’t drive into Endicott and you sure as hell don’t do it after dark on a Saturday night. And for the love of God don’t drive a shitty Honda with all probability of breaking. And if you are white, you don’t talk about what happens to shitty Hondas that break down on dark roads and you don’t mention what was in the barrel that washed up the Shawnee River last winter.
Reigning consensus is Ashley Greer was drunk or on a methamphetamine high when her two-year-old daughter drowned in a shit-stained toilet. Some people, in hushed voices, questioned if she did it on purpose. Months later all people could do was remember the rambunctious, curly haired nymph with a gleam in their eye, shake their heads and wonder.
More secrets everyone knows.
The biggest secret that plagues a small town is the one they tell each other. That they care. Sure, when Ashley’s kid turned face up in a bowl of piss, the community threw an auction in the name of charity. Said whether Ashley was negligent or even responsible, the child deserved a proper funeral. Besides, Nathan, the child’s father was a stand-up member of the community. A volunteer firefighter-no less.
Old ladies baked cakes, crafters made high priced-shit, local vendors donated goods. The community came out to show support-. Mostly they spent their money and talked behind each other’s backs all while smiling at each other’s faces. Told Nathan how sorry they were. Told each other they’d never be as blind as he was. Wasn’t he at least a little responsible? He knew Ashley had problems. How could he leave a child in her care? Well, she was his mother, she had rights.
More secrets everyone knows.
Meanwhile lives are being rearranged, destroyed. There was a time and place when a light could have been shed on such a secret, but people kept it hid instead. Or did they? Was it ever a secret? Was it ever hidden? Or just kept within the family, within the community?
That’s the trouble with small towns- they’re full of truths.
The Grass That Sways
Kelli J Gavin
When the grass sways from the mighty wind
And hits my ankles and brushes my legs
I fondly remember a simpler time when
I thought being outside was my job
When mom and dad would send us out
To play all day and return for food
Maybe even water and an afternoon rest
Under the big oak tree in the front yard
When dirt was something to seek
And I knew all the birds by name
Because they kindly called out to me
Each morning to come and play
My sister and I would join in the fun
A few neighbor kids by our side
We would run and play and sing and
Shout and chase each day away
In the country the freedom we had
To explore and create new adventures
Each day led to the promise of sleep
Every night our heads hit the pillow
I now find myself lingering outdoors
And seeking out the wind and the rain
The sun and even the shade because
I miss what I had when I was a child
Nothing to distract me from the fun of
Each new day when dishes and laundry
And meals seemed to be ready for me
I know it was all done by my mom
I thank her for enabling my sister and I
To take in all the sights and sounds
Of which our country home offered
To us in abundance each and every day
Our mom insisted that we be kids
And enjoy all the nature that surrounded
Us on every side and in every season
Oh how I loved my job as a kid
Today I will explore
Today I will walk in the fields
Today I will pick flowers
Today I will enjoy the grass that sways
Kelli Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company. She enjoys writing, reading, swimming, and spending time with family and friends. She abhors walks on the beach (sand in places no one wishes sand to be), candle lit dinners, (can’t see) and the idea of cooking two nights in a row (no thank you).
Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin
Blog found at firstname.lastname@example.org
If You Listen Hard Enough
If you blink, you’ll miss it. Flybys on the highway who never know of the things that happen just beyond that single overpass exit. Some nights, it’s nothing at all. All three thousand, eight hundred, and thirty-five of us find our way to bed without anything more exciting than a parking ticket for leaving your car running outside the Allsups.
But some nights, like nights where the moon is just a bit too full, or the comets fly by just right, you’ll hear it. Children screaming because their momma’s being beaten half to death in front of them and nobody cares enough to call the police cause she’ll just be right back over there next week. Momma’s got nobody else, you see. Her family over in Ranger already abandoned her for shacking up with a married man. Nevermind that his wife left him years ago.
On some nights, like Friday nights when most of the dads are so far into their eighteen packs that they forgot their kids were supposed to be at home by ten, you’ll hear some pretty interesting sounds. You’ll hear music out in the desert and a young girl’s voice singing along with some of the boys. Boys she’s known all her life, boys she lets touch her wherever they want to cause they make her feel loved. Boys that’ll protect her from anyone else who tries to touch her, who’ll let her get good and drunk before they try and do it themselves. That way she’ll be able to feel alright about it in the morning.
If you listen hard enough, you might even hear her crying while they do it.
On church nights, that’s when you’ll hear the laughter. The sounds of family. Everyone’s spent their Sunday morning listening about the evils of the world, so they hold their breath and listen to the quiet night and think twice about that next beer. On nights like that, you’d almost think you could call the place home. Almost.
You there on the highway, you should probably just keep on driving, though. Our Allsup’s got only the bare essentials and the gas is a hell of a lot cheaper over in Abilene. You should just go ahead and blink. Close your eyes and don’t try to listen too hard as you pass, either. Cause if you listen hard enough, you’ll hear the devil walking through the streets of my hometown. Nope, you should probably just keep on driving.
My name is Elena Bitner and I work in the education field in West Texas. I am from humble roots in East Texas and the first in my family to make it as far as I have, so I have come a long way from that hometown. I have a master’s in Creative Writing where my thesis was centered on exposing the atrocities of Southern neglect, abuse, and substance addiction.
SoDak Snow and Sky
“We’ll need the license plate number for your parking pass,” the nurse said to Bridget.
A static electric smell filled her mother’s hospital room. Bridget, desperate for fresh air, said, “I’ll get it.”
Outside a squall had begun. The weather had been clear when the airport shuttle dropped her off. Now a gauzy curtain of snow blurred the parking lot.
With her mom’s car in the far corner, Bridget’s plan to read the license plate from inside wouldn’t work. Running into a snowstorm wasn’t optimal, but preferable to doing nothing in the hospital room.
The snow gusts raced toward the south like they wished to pass over South Dakota on their way to Oklahoma without stopping. An inch or two of snow had accumulated already on the sidewalk. Bridget snapped her khaki safari jacket and stepped outside.
Under the hospital’s awning, Bridget gulped in fresh air, but iciness filled her mouth. She raised her hands to breathe through her bare fingers.
Stepping off the curb, her footing slipped and she wind-milled her arms to stay upright. A blast blew up her sleeves. The cotton of her jacket stiffened, trapping ice crystals next to her knit shirt.
Millions of crystal shards—none of them pretty snowflakes—showered her arms, her shoulders, her hair.
The howling wind carried the sound of an 18 wheeler passing by on Interstate 29. No bird sounds at all, only the lonely truck. Her Serengeti was never empty of calling cape doves and buzzing grasshoppers. South Dakota wind blasted like it could peel her skin off her cheeks.
“You need some help?” A bass voice called.
At the corner of the building, a guy in a snowmobile coverall held a shovel in one hand and a cigarette in the other. His gloves draped out of a pocket.
“I’m fine.” She didn’t want any help from anybody. She’d managed her life for the whole time since she left South Dakota and she would keep doing so.
The snowfall, coating the car in gray-white dust, made the license plate unreadable. She brushed it clear. MSL. Her mother hadn’t changed her vanity plate, a last birthday present from Bridget’s dad.
Her hands, covered with the wet refreezing crystals, burned. Her breasts ached under her jacket and her knit shirt. In Tanzania’s heat, she’d wear only her sandals, underwear and her blue linen sundress.
Dingy clouds muffled the sky from the western horizon to the eastern. In summer these dark clouds would spawn tornados. Serengeti clouds were cumulous, enormous puffs of white sailing by on their way to the Indian Ocean. Over the savannah, some part of the sky was always blue.
Weighed down by these January clouds, Bridget reached the entrance and brushed her chafing hands over her hair, her arms, and her thighs to knock off the snow. She gripped her travel pack strapped around her waist to feel the cardboard edge of her airline ticket. She wouldn’t stay in Sioux Ridge long.
Julie Wakeman-Linn edited the Potomac Review for a dozen years. Over twenty short stories have appeared in lots of wonderful journals. Her next one is forthcoming from Evening Street Review.
Walk On By
My aunt met me in the lobby of the hotel.
“We’ll walk, if you don’t mind. I need to stretch my legs before the service.” We walked past the golf shoe store, past the speciality bookstore for birdwatchers, past the ice cream parlor on the left and the one on the right, past the weird drug store that never took down their Christmas decorations, past the old bank that was now a tapas restaurant, past the old church that was now a bank.
“You know, I had just had lunch with your mother, right before the accident. I had been telling her to get that tail light, well, you know your mother, she never could listen”. My aunt dabbed at her eyes with an old tissue ball that she pulled from the inside pocket of her purse. There were still three blocks to go until the funeral parlor.
At the intersection, we waited for a line of log trucks to pass, the traffic light swaying as stray branches brushed against it. My aunt, nodding towards the Episcopal Church catty-corner, said, “You know, they got themselves a woman priest in there. Half of the congregation was in an uproar but then what were they going to do? They are too good for the Baptists and not religious enough for the Catholics. They would have been welcomed by the Methodists but they’ve also got a woman preacher. Of course, there’s the Presbyterians but everyone always forgets about them.”
The light changed and we walked on the disheveled sidewalk, grey and white hexagons cracked and displaced by knotty oak roots. We would jump from grey to grey as kids, avoiding the white ones along with the cracks, not wanting mothers with broken backs. To our right, the haunted Victorian house where my friend’s brother rented the attic: we would sit on his splintered balcony, smoking pot while her brother and his friends played their guitars poorly and talked about what they were going to do once they got out of this town.
We passed the old hospital that was now a law firm and headquarters of our State Representative. Across the street was the old high school that was now the school board and, right next door, in the sprawling white colonial revival house, was the funeral home, crowded with people there to bid farewell to my mother. My sister was inside already, making sure our mother’s pearls were laying properly.
My aunt slowed to a halt, looking at the line of cars trying to turn into the narrow drive.
“What a mess”, she said, then looped her arm through mine. “Had they put the new boardwalk down at Main Beach when you were here last? Shall we go have a look?”
And like that, we walked down toward the ocean, past my dead mother and her dead sister, past the alligators in the marsh, past the recreation center with the new heated pool, until there was nothing before us but the horizon.
About the author:
Tiffany Key is a linguistic navigator and amateur anthropologist who lives in a decent-sized closet with four fierce contenders near a shallow sea. Her work as appears and disappears here and there. She records cognitive flights of fancy at:
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