Friday, July 06, 2007
That Strawberry Wine (Deana Carter)
The husband and I went to my childhood home (from age 2 to 11) on the 4th of July. It wasn't the first time we'd been there; the first time was maybe two or three years ago, which is when I found out that the house I grew up in had been (briefly) a methamphetamine lab, then was bought and demolished by the neighbors. Now, you can't really even tell where it used to be. These neighbors had two daughters, considerably older than I, and one son who was a year younger, and who was, for all intents and purposes, my nemesis when I was a kid. We didn't ever actually hurt one another that I can recall, but we weren't friends, and there were fights. Unpleasantly, it turns out that he, the son, is still living in town there somewhere, which means that he's probably the one who's going to inherit the land when his folks kick, which seems grossly unfair to me. Not only does the neighbor family get to buy and knock down my old house, but then they give the land it used to sit on to Jared?
So but anyway. The town isn't much to look at -- it had about 150 people in it when I lived there, and is now down to about 125-130, depending on whose numbers you believe. But our old property used to be nice. There was a row of walnut trees along the west side of the property, and then a gigantic, ancient weeping willow in the front yard, in the northwest corner. A small patch of rhubarb in the middle of the back yard that we never did anything with, though I occasionally broke off a leaf to taste the stems, which tasted good. Sour-appley. A bunch of raspberry canes ran wild in the southwest corner, and were very very good when they got ripe -- I remember we used to collect bowls and bowls of them, and they were awesome. One or two mulberry trees on the southeast corner, which Dad cut down before we moved away, because when birds eat mulberries and then sit on Mom's clothesline, which birds are wont to do, they get purple bird poop all over whatever clothes are on the line.
There was also a crabapple tree by the rhubarb, which wasn't any good for eating, but provided things to throw at Jared (they had a tree in their yard too), and a few smallish lilac bushes on the east side of the house -- my main memory of the lilacs is that at some point, for reasons I maybe didn't even know at the time, Mom took me with her to break into a neighbor's house (oh yeah -- nobody locked their doors, but you should have guessed that) to leave a giant vase of lilacs on the neighbor's table. I don't even remember it being a neighbor we were especially friendly with, so it was kind of weird, and stuck in my mind. As far as I remember, it only happened the one time, too.
There was also a strawberry patch in the back yard, sort of in the center along the south side of the lawn. Like with the raspberries, when they ripened, they all ripened at once, and we used to have strawberries morning, noon and night for a week or so. They were awesome. Strawberries are bigger now than these were -- the huge mutant strawberries you can get in the grocery stores actually alarm me, sometimes -- but they're not any better. And God, I miss that kind of stuff, just having edible stuff just out growing in the yard, instead of getting them at the store. We didn't even have to work for the strawberries and raspberries, as far as I remember. They were just there.
What pisses me off is that none of this is still around: the neighbors not only bought the house to tear it down (which I understand it wasn't in the best shape anymore: despite what you may have heard, meth users aren't really fastidious house cleaners), but everything else got torn down at one time or another. The loss of the willow tree still pains me to think about, but that wasn't the neighbors, that was my uncle, who we sold the house to when we moved away, and he destroyed the tree rather than clean up the fallen branches. And Dad did the mulberries. But the rest -- the lilacs, rhubarb, walnuts, crabapples, raspberries, strawberries -- gone, at the neighbors' hands. I guess just so it would be easier to mow.
It makes the place kind of depressing to go back to, but there was also a little marker in the ground by the elementary school (where I went to kindergarten and first grade before they closed it for lack of students) saying that a time capsule was buried there. They'd put it in the ground in 1976 sometime, I forget the date, and they were going to open it on July 4, 2007. Which, growing up, I must have seen that marker hundreds of times, and 2007 would have been kind of abstract, but I figure I must have thought about it, what would I be doing in 2007, where would I be. I know I had to have done the math to figure out how old I'd be, though that would have been abstract, too -- when you're eleven, it's hard to visualize yourself much older than fourteen. I figured I owed it to my younger self to try to get back and see what was there, even though the objects in it wouldn't have had anything much to do with me -- my parents didn't contribute to the time capsule, so it would have just been some random 70s crap, other people's tastes, other people's memorabilia.
We got there too late, though. It was like 4 PM, and it had all been over some time before. Nobody around, no indication where the items might have been. A big area in the vicinity of the time capsule marker had been dug up; apparently nobody knew where it had actually been located. Which is funny. But otherwise, nothing. Just the neighbors, on a swing out in their back yard, which I could have gone and asked -- he used to be the mayor, and they knew the town, they would have known what happened. But I didn't feel up to dealing with them.
So in the end, there's just one more thing from my childhood that's not there anymore. All the plants are gone, the house is gone, and now the time capsule marker. It's not that there's nothing left, but even the things I remember are different -- I haven't been in the elementary school in maybe 20-25 years, and I don't know what they're doing with it now exactly but I think somebody's living in there. Maybe multiple someones. Also, there's a horse penned up in what used to be the school's back yard, right about where the slide used to be, which feels surreal.
I know you can't go home again, but still. Gosh. So much of the rest of the town is just like it was: only the stuff that was specific to me seems to be different.
This seemed like a good song for the occasion. It'll also be the beginning of a strawberry trilogy, even though I liked the raspberries better. (People don't write songs about raspberries so much.)
Possibly I should also note that slightly more liberties than usual have been taken with the song: normally I restrict myself to a fairly small number of changes1, and it's still not like I rewrote it all from scratch or anything, but it's less like the lyrics that came back from Babel Fish than usual. Not that you'll notice.
1rearrangement of word order; pluralization/depluralization; change of verb tense; deletion of words that just can't be made to fit into the song; addition/subtraction of articles (a, an, the); addition/subtraction of helping verbs and forms of "to be;" occasional reversion to the original word; changes of gendered pronouns. Most of these things are effectively randomized by the Babel Fish code to begin with.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The college worked it out through
grandpa. In my farm,
I thirsted for knowledge and had a car
stopped someplace. Yeah, I was agitated, in between a woman and summer --
a child finding the love of a wild one. We grow
in the banks of the river, in a well-beaten passage.
Those memories lasted; they were as funny as we were.
Seventeen: as the strawberry wine and
the hot moon of July capsizes everything,
my first taste of love was bitter candy,
as was the strawberry wine in the green grapevine.
I remember the thirty distillers well. When the elderly were
to go (when they had that mine), they were "Great September!" The fears
were absent: some cards, and letters, and an inter-urban call
that drifted. We were like fall foliage in the
place, but in the year after the year I came back to this,
only the taste of the strawberry wine was remembered.
The fields have grown an excess now, in the years since
the plough capsized them. That -- is not that,
that is nothing. The time didn't touch
my innocence, really, or -- is it that the loss of it is
so very lacking to me?