My sister has passed but she is in a place that is strangely familiar. If you want to know more about her then read Bonnie or Special Music. She will be missed.
At the visitation I got reacquainted with many old friends from the “good ole’ days”; Jeff Brunenn, Rob Wood, Mr. & Mrs. Pullins and most of the Clampitt clan.
After the funeral in Carthage there was the long procession to the West Point cemetery. I had never attended a burial there. Strange. The only time I ever went was around Halloween to see the eerie light that appeared mysteriously in the west. Most of my family is buried outside Denver at Harmony cemetery – my brother, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
We pulled into the horseshoe shaped drive and got out. As I walked towards the tent I passed by so many names of people from my formative days. There was Mrs. Sharrow, my third grade teacher. Wilbur Launer of Launer’s Garage who was also my school bus driver. And Matt & Minnie Hastings, our neighbors from across the street.
Speaking of which. It’s amazing what you get used to. One day I got to watch Mr. Hastings prepare chickens for processing. He would lay the bird on a stump and bring a hatchet down across its neck. Then sit it on the ground where it would run around like a chicken with its head cut off. Because thats what it was. I stood there simply amazed as future supper ran in circles and into the side of the garage.
They raised coon dogs. I guess technically they were blood hounds but we always called them coon dogs. If one were to cut up the alley past their pens one would have to hold one’s nose because their owner wasn’t too keen on keeping a pooper scooper handy. They would whelp and howl at all hours of the night or day depending on the whims of the wind or the bustling of a bush. One night my sister was visiting and complained about “those dogs” and wondered “how we ever slept with all that racket?” It was then I realized I never heard them anymore. They were there but they weren’t there. It was just part of the rhythm and sounds of my town.
There were many families represented; Hopson, Neil, Brunenn, Aten and many others. I wish I had more time to look around. Each name represents a story that connects them to the town, to me and to the past.
There was one grave that stood out among all the rest. It boasted a Cubs banner that stood high above the gravestone it honored. It was the site of Arlo & Eileen Clampitt, lifelong Cub fans who missed out on finally seeing their team win the World Series this year. You couldn’t miss it. Their kids obviously had a little celebration and raised the banner (literally) to mark the occasion.
After the gravesite service we left. When I got to the main road I was tempted to turn right and enter the town. But I didn’t. I have not driven through since my mother moved 15 years ago and I’ve heard my boyhood home is in shambles. Unfortunately, West Point’s best days are behind it. And that’s okay.
I choose to remember the way it was.
The old grade school is torn down now but I remember riding my bike and parking it at the bike rack with no lock and it was waiting for me after school. Dodgeball and small skits in the tiny gymnasiam. And Mrs. Sharrow slapping me in the face because I told her to “shut up”. But she also trusted me enough to climb out the 2nd story window of our classroom and scurry up the wall to get an errant ball off the gym roof several times. Neither of which would happen today.
There were hundreds of fast pitch softball games under the lights on a bug filled Friday night. The sounds of socket wrenches and stubborn motors that won’t start still resonate off the concrete walls of Launer’s Garage. I can still walk down to Scott’s Market to get a frozen pizza, pick out a soda in a glass bottle and put it on our tab. Me and the neighbor kids are coming to Clampitt’s yard for another round of Kick the Can. Farmers gather at the post office or Roy’s barber shop to swap stories. And traffic could back up 2 or 3 cars deep sometimes waiting on the train to pass.
And this time of year we are getting ready for Christmas. All the local churches are putting on their Christmas programs put on by highly skilled local child actors. It’s the same old story we look forward to hearing each year. It’s followed by festive feasts in basements. Dad (who’s been gone 20 years now) is preparing his talk for Christmas morning. Mom is working and laughing in the kitchen as she gets ready for the big family dinner.
The single solitary strand of Christmas lights that crosses the main street from the light pole by our warehouse to the one on the corner of Ray Lane’s property is swaying in the breeze. It stays up there all year long but someone turns it on around Christmastime. Most of the lights don’t work because boys, like my brother, like their BB guns. The bright neon cross shines across the winter sky atop the West Point Assembly of God. It’s soft blue light sends out a message and an invitation.
And so it is. Time moves on. Some memories remain. Some fade away. Families move on and others stay. The town of West Point may be dying but it lives on in my heart. And whether you were just passing through or a long time resident, may the time you had there bring you cheer and give you a Merry Christmas.