I look hard at this picture when I run across it in my photo album , long and hard at a time that used to be when we were all still here.
My Grandparents, My Aunts and Uncles, all my cousins, my siblings. I stare at it because if it wasn’t smack dab in front of my face I wouldn’t believe it was a time that really existed. But then it all comes flooding back , opening up the damn gates in my mind of a time that used to be .
My Uncle ( my Mother’s brother) owned a bar and bait shop along the Mississippi river when I was growing up.
Some of my other family members owned it before him and were still scattered in homes behind the bar or in the trailers that lined the roads going up the bluff, where other family’s came every weekend to get away from their jobs and the monotony of their lives. Pulling up in station wagons one by one they would all pile out of the car, Moms grabbing grocery’s , Dad’s grabbing their fishing gear, the kids like pent-up puppy’s dashing here and there as soon as the car doors opened. Grills would fire up, chairs would be set outside, the crack of a beer can, the music up loud. Adults smiled and said hello to their neighbors, kids laughed and screamed. It was pure abandonment and release.
I spent many weekends here from the time I was a young girl, Our parents bellied up to the bar, the smoke in the air so thick you would swear if someone lifted you up and let go, you could float on it. The jukebox playing Rollin on the river and everyone around the bar belting out the words.
At the back of the bar a game room for us kids, or was it built to get us kids out of their hair so they could tip another back, tell another story, sing another song? We didn’t care, it was our place away from the grown up’s.
7up cans lined the window sills, bags of peanuts and chips. The pin ball machine dinged , the trains passing so close they shook the building, the conductor blowing the horn ….
Later as the moon rose, the party would continue outside. Someone would start a fish fry, Someone would start a bon-fire and the adults would gather around my Uncle and his guitar and the sounds of Waylon Jennings , Willie Nelson and Emmy Lou Harris would echo in the valley.
Us kids running free under the cover of darkness, I had my first taste of alcohol there, my first kiss, found my first love. Felt my first heartbreak.
Our parents weren’t fretting about where we were or what we were doing, we were safe in the confines of our own community, yet free to experience everything. They didn’t worry if we had sun screen or bug spray on, If we were alone down by the river, if we dodged in and out of trailers with our friends. We didn’t have a curfew and there were no rules outside the ones we set for ourselves
. Our parents were for a moment in time without a worry : if we saw them drink, smoke, heard them swear or dance under the stars. We watched from afar as children did back then and asked no questions. We saw our parents live, let loose, smile , laugh , sing and dance.
I had no idea back then I would be watching the death of a generation, that I was witnessing the last of parental freedom or the freedom to be a kid in a time where you were pushed out of the nest to learn how to fly for yourself.
I learned everything I treasure most in my life on the banks of that river, I learned how to respect my boundaries and I learned what happened if I didn’t. I learned how to appreciate the simple things in life .
I learned to trust my own instincts.
I learned to bait a fish, I learned that crossing the river on a boat while the sun rises is a memory that will stay with you forever- and one you will often re-visit in your mind.
I learned to appreciate the whistle of a train.
I learned how a song can evoke a memory forever.
I learned who my Mother was outside the lines of being a parent and to see her for the person she was, engaging, enchanting, beautiful and unguarded.
I learned what it meant to belong to a tribe- people who would be the voices in your head long after they were gone.