Some Places Give You Callouses

 Rural townBeing born in rural Missouri
It comes as no surprise you get callouses
Just about everywhere—
Your hands, your ass, your very soul.

It’s always ones inside the heart
That hurt the most—
The angry blood from beatings,
Guilt acquired in church that taught Bible verses
But was fairly challenged when it came to love.

My piano teacher hitting hands when keys were missed—
The ruler blistered into memory,
Tick-tock along with metronome.
Teachers and principles screamed
Words I cannot list because they’re
So fucking filthy they burned ears to deafness.
A head coach firing a starting pistol at me
Point blank as I carried two apple pies to be sold,
Dropped to the floor thinking I’d been killed.

Every year on my birthday,
I would make a secret wish as I blew out
Candles on my cake (at least I got a cake,
Angel-food with white icing made by Aunt Mary Jane)
Silently wishing that when I died
Please God, let me into Heaven.  Please.  Please.
Year after year after year, the same secret wish.
Even at five, I did not wish for red bicycle….
And I was lucky.  Most had it far worse.

Some nights were wild and others dreadful,
But there were also summer fireflies in darkest dark—
Jars and jars of lightening flashes trapped in glass.
Little by little stars burned through clouds,
Leaving quiet sound of God behind.
Slowly a new voice was heard,
Finally recognized as my own,
Kept me company and protected from harm
As I walked beyond stop signs
Placed at intersections of winding roads.

Missouri was a perfect place to grow up—
Giving opportunity to learn awkward art of unlearning,
Teaching importance of forgiveness and patience.
All that takes growing up and patience, patience, patience….
Years allowing wounds to heal, standing at the graves—
Grandparents, parents, cousins, teachers, so many laid to rest….
The tears, the wordless prayers— I miss them all beyond measure.
I forgive you.  I forgive you.  Please forgive me.

But first I needed to escape Missouri—
Leave behind small town where Jews and Catholics,
Blacks and Hispanics were not welcome.
I had to go in order to accept where I’d been.
Now I love my memories of growing up in Missouri,
Honor deep roots in small town and state,
But thank God every day I live in Connecticut.

There are still times when the wind blows strong—
Whole house and heart trembles at the tug,
Deeply felt down in stone foundations.
On such cold nights I hear old voices
Whispering over fields and prairies,
Across wide muddy rivers.

These voices are not voices of strangers
For they come from places
Where I was born and then was lost.
They find me here, living
Not in a crowd of sorrows
But alive in a new clearing.

 I greet them with open doors,
Glimpse them in mirror on the wall,
Commune with them at table
With bread and wine and cheese.
Together we sit and talk of many things
Until light of sunrise enters in.


4 thoughts on “Some Places Give You Callouses

  1. I know this small town very well – I grew up there, too. Only I lived three miles from town – perhaps that made the difference. I remember vividly a trip to town when I was about 5, and as I stood under the large clock above the bank by myself, I worried if I was going to get lost or if I would be able to find the rest of my family when we were to link up in an hour. I have found myself migrating back at least once a year for the past twenty years or so. My return seems to fill some need within me. I remember the prejudices – even though my family didn’t support most of them. I think part of the differences in our childhood memories is that I came from a family of have-nots and you came from a family of haves, but who defines what that means anyway. I could always count on my parents and my seven siblings to be there for me even when times were tough. It takes a village to raise a child – and without the support of the church, the school and the greater community my life today would be much different today. Some time I would love to chat with you about our memories and the callouses that we both took with us when we left home.

    • Such a chat would be more than welcome! Of course our memories are as different as are our lives, both then and now. And I totally agree that it takes a village to raise a child.

  2. I would love to sit down in a comfy chair and have a quiet, and extended talk. You have such an interesting perspective and articulate your thoughts so well.

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