A Square Mile Town

The morning was clouded, sun still yawning and eager for his morning cup of coffee. Four of us ventured outside, aching for adventure and desperate for something more than a trailer too small for a family of 6. We didn’t skip or hold hands, just existed beside each other in a knowing way.

The air smelled of damp dirt and dreams hollowed out by years of desperate risks and failures. Though it was small, barely a square mile total, this town of shacks, held up by thin sticks and a deep need for privacy, gave us more to explore than we’d thought possible. We could walk from one end to the other in approximately 30 minutes while dragging our feet, as we often did out of boredom, and still never get tired of seeing the same time-worn buildings.

At the end of the town, there was a small post office with a single bookshelf full of romance novels located just to the right of the front door. Hanging beneath, or above, or perhaps lying on top of the shelf was a sign proudly asking passers by to “Take a book, leave a book!”. This was, essentially, the library. I never left a book, but the ones I took were always replaced by another publication in the series- just as dusty and worn as whatever bound tale I’d “borrowed” the day before. Though there was a teller window, I don’t remember ever seeing anyone working behind it. Perhaps the face was so sullen and unremarkable that I forgot? Perhaps she or he just never showed up for work… Perhaps I never paid attention. Mailboxes, grey and brown with their expected coating of dirt, lined a single wall that ran the length of a small bedroom. I never counted them all but wish I would have.

A small gas station could be found at the other end, with pumps older than my grandfather. They still had the tickers that rolled to show the prices, and each pump stood as tall as my shoulders. The store owner, knowing he was the only shop within 45 miles, kept his prices reasonable for the supply and demand of his product- that is to say, my step-father regularly complained about being stolen from when he’d stop there. We often walked in with a $5 bill and purchased various treats from his wares. We knew exactly what we could get for $5 and could always been expected to buy either a 2 liter of Root beer and a half gallon of ice cream, or a graham cracker pie crust and a box of pudding mix.  This would serve as our family’s dessert for the evening, likely being the only dessert we’d had in weeks and rewarded to us only because our neighbor lost her dog that morning and offered us cash if we found him.

The clerk and owner, his name escaping me, was of foreign decent, and always seemed tired. His accent was thick, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to taking some time to understand what he would say. This, I believe, made us both apprehensive to speak to each other, resulting in a relationship of polite nods and basic formalities. I visited his shop weekly for 3 years, and I still never gave more than the absolute least that was expected of me. This is something that I struggle with even now, as a 25 year old adult. I’ve heard his son took over and am under the belief that his son and my family have a decent relationship now.

Finally, in the dead center, there was a mediocre park that consisted of a single metal slide (off-limits in the heat of summer), a small jungle gym thing, some swings, something we called a “snake”, and a see-saw (the first one we’d ever seen, I might add). A small gazebo housing picnic tables kept us occupied for more hours than my pride will let me admit. Out of anything in this entire, sleepy, retired town, the park is what kept us sane. It often hosted days of celebration for the town, where otherwise home stuck adults would venture out of their safety hovels and participate with other agoraphobic individuals in small games and child-watching. People communed and feigned interest in their fellow neighbors. Men showed off their overly made-up wives and their rambunctious children. Woman learned whatever new gossip was hanging on the vine. Kids ran around, screaming for attention from their peers. Most of the friends I was able to hold on to for the longest time into my adult life, I’d met at this park. The memories of it are profound and endearing, and regularly bring me into a somber state of being.

The nights would roll in slowly, often warning us long ahead of time that it was time to work our little legs back to the trailer for dinner, and we’d go without complaint. An entire day could be lost meandering around, looking for a missing dog or tapping on the door of a soon-to-be friend and asking for company. There wasn’t a movie theater or a shopping mall within any reasonable distance. All we had was each other, more dirt that one could imagine, and no supervision. Somehow, though, we still found a way to enjoy ourselves.

Currently, I am surrounded by buildings, cellphones, shopping centers, and so many other distractions. Quiet has become unsettling, and my days are often filled with either too-much to do, or guilted days of lying on my couch watching TV and avoiding the too-much-to-do thoughts. I cannot imagine how this square mile town in the middle of nowhere kept my mind occupied…

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