Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Watch For It

He stopped at the curb to press the crosswalk button, casually swinging his briefcase as he checked both ways for traffic. Any second now he’d set the briefcase down to tie a shoe or adjust his jacket. Wait… wait… and there it was. Today he tied a shoe. The light turned green and I drove through the intersection glancing at him one last time as he stood to pick up his briefcase. He nodded slightly as I passed. I raised one hand from the steering wheel.

I leave for work very early in the morning. Almost every weekday for a of couple years now I’ve seen this same lone man at the same empty intersection at the same early time of day. We each wake up to carry out our daily routines unconcerned, and mostly unaware, that the other exists except for that thirty seconds or so each morning at the intersection. He generally approaches the corner about the time I come to a stop at the light.

That early in the morning he’s the only pedestrian and I’m the only car. I forgot who began to wave first, but after months of early morning crossings it just seemed silly not to. He’d become as much a part of the landscape for me as the row of trees by the school, the yellow house with the picket fence, or the bridge over the creek. Their constant presence is an odd reassurance that all is right and routine. On rare days when he wasn’t at the intersection, I wondered where the man might be. He’d reappear the next day and all would be normal again. I laugh at myself for noticing such things but I suppose others do too. It’s not just me?

And it isn’t only the man with the briefcase. A rusty white van pulls out in front of me at the next corner. Further along, two black labs do their early morning romping behind a fence. A man in a red hat hoses off the sidewalk in front of an office building. Over time I began to notice these things and soon actually watched for them.

Each evening going home I walk past a woman smoking a cigarette under a tree out back. The security guard at the parking garage sings loudly to himself. Back in the car and I pass the same food truck along the same stretch of road every day. Closer to home and those two black labs are either lying in the shade or barking at squirrels. Those routine sights in my personal landscape satisfy something, I’m just not sure what. It’s not just me?

A while back, returning to work after a few days of vacation followed by a long weekend, I eagerly checked off my daily landscape markers. The briefcase, the dogs, the sidewalk washer, all there as usual even though I’d been gone a while. That evening on the way home I saw the woman light her cigarette and head towards the tree out back. I laughed again at myself for even noticing, but she was, after all, a part of my daily landscape.

As I neared the tree on my way to the parking garage I wondered if the security guard would still be singing after all of my days away from work. That’s when I heard the woman’s voice.

“Hey.” she said as took a puff of her cigarette. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

It’s not just me.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Small Town Ways

With a warm spring finally here and hotter weather to follow, a store near me has filled its seasonal section with all things summer. Though still April, I saw stacks of Fourth of July themed party supplies, plastic cups for poolside use, and a display of various sunscreens. It was the sunscreen display that reminded me of a day trip I took years ago with my kids.

The three of us set off to spend a day on the beach of a small town I’ve visited all my life and I knew the kids would enjoy sun, sand, and saltwater. As for me, I immediately felt calmer simply leaving work, traffic, and fast-paced living. While the kids argued in the back over who would be first to get in the water once we arrived, I drove and looked forward to experiencing again the small town ways I love but see disappearing. It’s hard to describe those ways, but you know them when you see them and every time an example pops up I hear myself say “There it is.”

People used to wave when they passed one another. Strangers smiled and nodded to each other. If you got lost while traveling you pulled over and the service station mechanic happily got you back on track. If he didn’t know how to then the man reading his newspaper while waiting for an oil change certainly might. And you didn’t have to ask, he’d eagerly put down his paper to help.

There it is.

People reminded one another to carry an umbrella as the weatherman had mentioned thunderstorms for later. If you needed a pen then the woman in line behind you was glad to offer hers. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in each other. There was no agenda, helping out wasn’t done for personal gain, and kindness was expressed simply because it was good and right.

There it is.

As I parked the car at the marina the kids scrambled over each other to race to the beach. I looked around, sad to see some of the quaint out-buildings now gone. Rustic boathouses and a tiny bait shop were replaced by an over-priced restaurant and a store with neon signs screaming at me to buy souvenirs. No wonder small town ways are disappearing; they have no place to live.

Carrying towels, toys, and floats, I made my way over hot sand to where the kids waited by the water. It was then I realized I’d forgotten their sunscreen. Reluctantly, they left the beach to walk with me to the shiny new store at the marina. I hesitated, unhappy about supporting something that helped replace the very ways I’d been reminiscing about, but the kids needed sunscreen. Gone were the days of the smiling bait shop owner asking how he could help. We’d just have to go in and hope a cashier would even notice us.

Walking in I was surprised. There beneath garish fluorescent lights was an old man stocking greeting cards. Wearing faded jeans and a worn flannel shirt, he used a cane for balance as he stooped to fill the lower shelves. Although surrounded by displays of magazines, coolers full of sodas, and racks of colorful t-shirts, I saw no sunscreen. Interrupting his work, I nodded towards my kids.

“Do you have any sunscreen?” I asked. “I forgot theirs.”

“Well, I believe I might.” he responded with a smile. “Let me look.”

He seemed out of place there surrounded by beach jewelry, scented candles, and baskets of packaged seashells. Dance music over store speakers nearly drowned out his voice. As we followed him through aisles crammed with flip-flops and plastic buckets, I thought sadly how his working in such a place was final evidence that the small town ways had been all but swallowed up by sterile progress. This man, and others like him from the old days, had to adapt to the new or be left behind. Surely in that transition small town courtesies would be lost, gone for good, all part of the change.

The old man led us to the checkout counter but I still saw no sunscreen. Using his cane again, he stooped to reach down behind the cash register and lifted up an old knapsack, obviously his own, and opened it on the counter. He dug inside removing a frayed wallet, rusty keys, and a tiny old notebook before saying “Yep, got it.” With a smile he produced a large tube, told me there was plenty to cover both kids, and handed me the last of his very own sunscreen.

There it is.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Finial Moment

Friends and I enjoyed brunch the other day. Afterwards, I suggested we stop by the local antique store to see what was new…

No one got the joke.

Still laughing at myself, because it never takes much, I held the door for the others as we entered and went our separate ways down cluttered and dusty aisles.

We hadn’t been there long when I saw, tucked between Mason jars and wicker baskets, an old Thanksgiving decoration like one Mama used when I was a kid. It was a turkey with a cardboard head but the rest of it was the honeycomb style that opened and latched onto itself, giving the turkey a big round body. Its cardboard head was bent and its big round body didn’t latch anymore, but I held it up to look at it and wondered whose it used to be, where they might have placed it, and how many kids had ever touched it or crunched it.

“You want that thing?” one friend asked.

“No, I’m just having a finial moment.” I responded.

“Ok…” my friend said. He waited for an explanation.

For years and years, the same floor lamp stood in the same corner of the den at home. It was always positioned at one end of the couch regardless of how the room was arranged. Mama rarely rearranged, so the lamp stood in the same spot forever it seemed. The lamp sported three light bulbs and was about six feet tall counting the huge beige shade. As a kid I thought it was “fancy” because as you turned the switch you could opt for one, two, or all three bulbs to be on. Wow! Poking up above the huge beige shade was a tarnished bronze finial about an inch long.

Under that lamp at the end of the couch Mama sometimes worked crossword puzzles or sewed loose buttons. Daddy would temporarily leave his recliner to sit under the extra light to squint at a roadmap or at the faded date on an old coin. My three sisters and I took turns sitting under that lamp to do homework, color, or play games.

We laughed, argued, and watched television under that lamp. Daddy told stories about his workdays and Mama made sure he was caught up on neighborhood happenings, all under the lamp. That lamp saw holidays and birthdays and every day as soon as it was dark outside it was turned on. It was the last light to go out at night. That same lamp had been there forever and would be there forever. Such a thing couldn’t be replaced.

One day Mama replaced it.

I came home after school to see the old lamp standing beside the trash can. The shade itself, admittedly less beige and torn in two spots, had been smashed unceremoniously into the trash can. Poking up above the less beige lampshade was the tarnished bronze finial. I pulled at the finial and realized it could be unscrewed from the shade. I’d gotten it almost off when Mama walked by on her way to the clothesline.

“You want that thing?” she asked as she adjusted the laundry basket on her hip.

“Yep.”  I said. I removed the finial and kept it.

That was almost forty years ago and I still have it.

I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve come across that finial, but each time, I’ve held it and remembered countless days and nights at home as a kid. That little finial sat in the same room with me and my family as we celebrated happy times, cried over sad times, or did absolutely nothing but be with each other one regular old evening after another.

Photographs are wonderful, but to hold an object in your hand that has the power to bring back so many memories is a gift. We should accept those when they’re given.

I have several boxes full of items like the finial. Sometimes I go to the boxes just to have a finial moment with one object or another.

When I hold a tiny porcelain giraffe I think about Nannie in her chair by the window. She’s crocheting and smiling because someone’s walking up the path under the walnut tree coming for a visit. Her rolls are almost ready in the oven and my aunt Dessie will be over later to fix her hair for church tomorrow. Nannie had a hundred houseplants and for years the tiny porcelain giraffe stood in the dirt under her Christmas cactus. When she gave me the plant I got the giraffe. The Christmas cactus died long ago, but I kept the tiny giraffe and when I look at it I see the plant blooming on Nannie’s table.

Three little magnets I keep in the box remind me of Granddaddy. When I was a kid he used those magnets to show me “magic”. He’d put one magnet on the dining room table and ask it to spin, which it did wildly for him but not for me! I never thought to look for him holding the other two magnets in his hand under the table, close enough to make the third one react on the tabletop. He could make two magnets stick together or make them push apart, all at his command. It was magic to me. Even when I was old enough to know how he did it, I played along. The satisfied grin he gave after each performance was enough to keep me playing dumb forever. One day he called me over to the swing where he sat chewing tobacco. He “taught” me the trick, swore me to secrecy, and gave me the three little magnets.

The jagged little puppy tooth I keep makes me smile. The collie we had growing up was a good friend to us all and I still miss her, my first dog as a kid. We got Mitzi as a puppy and for thirteen years she watched me and my sisters grow up. She walked Mama and Daddy back and forth to the garden and she was gentle towards the many smaller animals that came and went through our house during her time. As a puppy, she lost that tooth in the kitchen one day and before Mama could sweep it up I took it to my room. I remember when we brought Mitzi home and I remember when we buried her. A thousand fun times are recalled when I look at the little tooth that once gnawed my hand while a tiny tail wagged.

My boxes are full of items that spark “finial moments” for me. The hinge from a gate by the barn, a feather from a quail I hatched in an incubator, a pocket knife, and a simple brown rock are just some of the items. All hold stories and images stronger for me than any photograph could trigger. I remembered these things as I talked in the antique store that day.

My friend listened to me go on as I stood there with the old Thanksgiving decoration in my hand. Several times his eyes glazed over, boredom I’d assumed, so I cut my story short. As it turned out he wasn’t bored, he was remembering…

I leaned over to put the broken turkey decoration back on the shelf as I wrapped up my story but before I could stick it back between the Mason jars and the wicker baskets my friend took it from my hand.

“You want that thing?” I asked

“Finial moment.” he said, and headed to the cashier.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Birds Of A Feather

My bus arrived on time in spite of the foul weather. I shook my umbrella, climbed the steps, and headed straight for the empty seat beside Marble Lady. I call her that now because last week she cleaned her purse during our morning commute and we discussed the small green marble she discovered in its zippered pocket. She’d found the marble in her yard, dropped it into her purse thinking it may have once belonged to her now adult son, and thought no more about it until she came across it that day on the bus. After we talked, she realized her sentimental feelings attached to it and instead of getting rid of the marble, she kept it.

This morning she faced the window when I boarded the bus. As I sat down she turned to give a “good morning” nod to whoever it was beside her. Seeing me, she broke into a smile. There was a question I’d been waiting to ask her but didn’t know my chance would come so soon.

“Have you lost your marbles?” I knew she’d remember last week’s conversation.

“No,” she laughed, “but I gave one away!”

Our bus stopped with traffic ahead of us, poor weather making it a slow commute. While we waited, she explained that she’d told her son about the small green marble. He agreed it was likely his because he remembered his set of marbles as a little boy. She’d told her son about our conversation and how a rush of sentimentality made her want the marble she initially disregarded. She had been affected by memories the marble sparked.

“I’ll never look at a marble the same way!” she insisted.

Marble Lady continued by saying she and her son had enjoyed a conversation of their own about sentimentality. They had laughed and remembered some good times but agreed that neither of them were usually prone to those feelings.

“Still, I’ll never look at a marble the same way.” she repeated. “Most things just don’t affect me like that.”

“Not me.” I confessed. “Not sure whether a blessing or a curse, but almost anything can make me sentimental.”

“Almost anything?” her tone begged me to seek professional help.

“Almost anything.” I confirmed with resignation.

The bus crawled forward and stopped again. While we waited, Marble Lady casually wiped moisture from the window to reveal a small bare tree by the street. A single blackbird flew onto a branch. In a moment it was joined by another, then three more, one more, two more, then many more, until suddenly the tree was peppered with blackbirds. They mingled, flapped wings, traded places, and made a ruckus we heard from inside the bus. I stared at the bustling blackbirds as the bus crawled forward a few more feet.

Marble Lady remarked how interesting it is that blackbirds spend most of their lives alone or with one or two more but at certain times of the year they gather from near and far to be together, say whatever it is they say to each other, then part ways knowing they’ll do it again next year. She stopped talking when she noticed me staring at the flock.

“Oh no.” she grinned, remembering how almost anything can make me sentimental. She leaned closer to get my attention. “Don’t tell me that flock of birds makes you feel sentimental?”

“Noooo. Not at all.” I answered. “It makes me feel nostalgic!”

Good manners prevented her eyes rolling.

I attempted an explanation. “I was just thinking how that flock of birds compares to my family.”

Her eyes still didn’t roll but she stifled a laugh. “It makes you feel nostalgic? Tell me how!”

This was a pop quiz, I thought. I could never pass a pop quiz when I was in school. Now here was another, just like the one I had in Chemistry decades ago when I’d only studied for History. My stomach lurched like our bus in the traffic as I pondered just how to articulate my nostalgia.

I explained that my immediate family is large and my extended family is absolutely sprawling. Between aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, spouses and children of all, we’re a lot like those blackbirds. We spend most of our lives alone or with one or two others, but once a year or so we flock together. Just like those birds, there are certain times of the year when we gather from near and far to be together, say whatever it is we say to each other, then part ways knowing we’ll do it all again next year.

I’m sure Marble Lady wanted to tell me it wasn’t she who might have lost her marbles. She stared blankly at me for a second then looked back at the flock of raucous birds. As if on cue their muffled chatter ceased and they emptied the tree in unison to disperse in various directions. Marble Lady turned to look at me again.

“Well, now I will never look at a bird the same way.” she said.

The bus moved on at regular speed, Marble Lady became a birdwatcher, and I wondered whether I’d lost marbles of my own or finally passed a pop quiz.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Small Green Marble

A massive purse sat propped open in her lap as I approached. From the seat beside her she moved a small pack of tissues, two pens, and a broken pencil to make room for me. I took my seat and gasped as something jabbed me in the left buttock.

“I think you forgot this.” I said, handing her the bristled end of a broken hair brush.

“Sorry!” she shook her head apologetically. “I wanted to clean out this old purse on the ride to work and I have thrown things everywhere.”

The bus continued its route while she continued her cleaning. She shuffled through hand-written notes, balled up scraps of paper, and checked and rechecked zippered compartments in the giant purse.

“Well look at this.” she said as she held up a small green marble. “I found it in the yard one day when I left the house and forgot I’d put it in here. My son is grown but he had a set of green marbles he played with all the time. I’m sure it was one of his.”

“You should hold on to it then.” I said. She stared at the marble she held in the air.

“I’m too sentimental as it is.” she said and handed me the marble. “Here, if someone says you’ve lost your marbles, now you have proof you haven’t!” We both laughed and I took the small green marble she pressed into my hand.

“It’s crazy to hold on to it just because it reminds me that my son was a tiny boy.” she stared through the bus window.

“Not really.” I said. “I have boxes of things like that marble”.

She turned around and tossed the last few items back into her purse that had been scattered in her seat as we’d talked. She looked at me expecting, I assumed, to hear what I had in the boxes I’d mentioned.

“You wouldn’t keep something as silly as a marble, would you?” she asked.

“Ohhh yes.” I said as I thought of my sentimental trinkets. “From the time I was a kid I’ve kept a puppy tooth our collie lost, a feather from a quail I hatched in an incubator, and a heart-shaped rock I found in the pasture.”

“I just might keep those too.” she smiled out of courtesy.

On a roll, I continued. “I have the cracker tin my grandmother used in her kitchen, a tiny basket my son carved from a peach pit, and a pocket knife my uncle gave me for helping him one day.”

“I just might keep those too!” she smiled again and seemed to give thought to the relevance of everyday trinkets.

I told her more about various items I have in boxes and drawers, any one of which could look like meaningless trash to others. To me, each has a story.

Who could know the number of times my grandmother’s caring hands opened the cracker tin? The sharp little puppy tooth is a reminder of my collie’s first year as my best friend. The peach pit basket was carved by my son with the help of my father who passed away just over a year ago.

Every tiny silly trinket I keep is accompanied by a wonderful story. All I need to do is pick one up to go back in time for a minute or two. Good reminders of great times. At the mention of each of my keepsakes the woman beside me agreed she just might keep that one too.

I felt I’d bored her with too much nostalgia when I saw her turn away and stare straight ahead. She had a slight smile on her face, though, when she turned to me and pointed at my coat.

One step ahead of her, I had already reached for the small green marble in my pocket. I pressed it into her hand.

“I just might keep that.” she said.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Look For Sprinkles

Today had been a cabbage of a day. Now I needed sprinkles.

It was a harried, unpleasant day at work. Nothing extraordinarily gruesome, just the sort of day we all have now and then which we’re glad to see come to a close. A hectic day full of irritable people and I resigned myself to endure it to the end. Yes, it was a cabbage of a day but once the cabbage was gone I could have my sprinkles.

As a kid growing up in Richmond, Virginia, I sometimes accompanied Mama on shopping trips to Southside Plaza, the local shopping center in its day. For me, eating at the S&W cafeteria there at the Plaza was the highlight of the trip. Mama picked our lunch items but allowed me the dessert of my choice. I always asked for pudding with sprinkles.

Sprinkles made me smile.

Desserts waited for me in neat rows behind glass at the end of the line where Mama paid for lunch. As she did, I looked over pudding options searching for those with sprinkles on top. There were many desserts but not all were sprinkled with happiness and I became frustrated if I could find none. Mama waited patiently for me to discover them, knowing I’d just not seen them yet.

“Sometimes you really have to look for sprinkles.” Mama said. “Just keep looking.”

She was right, of course, they were there all along but sometimes it took skill to see them. I chose my pudding, enjoyed my sprinkles, and smiled all the while.

I’m sure Mama picked a variety of things for each lunch, but of all the items she chose for me during all of the lunches we had at the S&W, I can recall only one. Cabbage. It was disgusting. Mama’s rule was hard though – eat my lunch first, and then I could have my dessert. I learned to endure the cabbage knowing that sprinkles awaited me on the other side. Then I would smile.

I thought about that on the bus ride home from work today. What a cabbage of a day I’d endured and how ready I was for sprinkles. As I sighed in relief at the day being through I overheard an elderly man in the seat ahead of mine telling jokes to his friend. I smiled at each of his punch lines. Were those my sprinkles?

When I stepped from the bus to walk home I saw two young boys carrying a fat black puppy. Not knowing which one it wanted more, the puppy rapidly licked first one boy and then the other, back and forth. The boys’ uncontrollable giggles made me smile. Were those my sprinkles?

I didn’t know what I expected my sprinkles to be today but surely jokes and a puppy didn’t qualify. Or did they? I had smiled, after all.

We all have cabbage days and as sappy as it sounds we all need to look for sprinkles. It’s imperative. We might find them in a stranger’s jokes, the comical antics of a puppy, or a million other places. As Mama taught me, it sometimes takes skill to see the sprinkles and the more cabbage of a day you have, the harder your sprinkles might be to find, but they’re out there.

Find the sprinkles. Tomorrow could hold another serving of cabbage and the next day could hold even more, so find the sprinkles where you can. It’s not always easy.

“Sometimes you really have to look for sprinkles.” Mama said. “Just keep looking.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Frozen in Time

There’s a lot of life in that old freezer.

It’s a chest freezer actually, from the 1960s I think. Dirty white with spots of ancient rust and it makes a horrifying screech when the lid is opened. For decades it sat on the huge back porch of Nannie’s farmhouse, ran perfectly, and never skipped a beat.

When Nannie died, Daddy debated what to do with that old freezer. He feared moving it would cause it to stop running but he hauled it across the field to his own screened porch where it still runs perfectly and never skips a beat. Daddy is gone now too, but the freezer runs on.

That freezer has a lot of life in it, in more ways than one.

Every summer Nannie filled its frosty racks with butter beans and other garden goodies. I’d take the path to her house and hear the familiar screech of the lid as I got to the porch. Nannie would be comically bent over head first in the freezer, digging through frozen packages, surrounded by the cloud of cold “smoke” that puffed out as she stirred the air inside.

Over decades the freezer took on a life of its own and became more than a useful place to store food. It became the focal point of Nannie’s porch with its broad surface that made a handy place to leave things, do things, and grow things.

It was a fine spot for African violets and a Christmas cactus. In early spring Nannie started vegetable seeds in trays and lined them up along the top of the freezer. She’d laugh for causing herself extra work when she had to move them all just to get a package of frozen corn for supper.

A lot of life went on around that freezer.

Nannie kept small weigh scales on the freezer in case someone from church came by to get a pound of snaps. Quart baskets of blackberries we all picked sat on the freezer until someone came to buy them. A random green apple, a forgotten eggplant, or a pie Nannie made and meant to give to a friend might all be on the freezer.

If one aunt had coupons for another aunt, they were left on the freezer. If a visiting friend found a cousin’s toy army man under the swing, it was left on the freezer. If an uncle returned a borrowed tool, it was left on the freezer. If you carried something when you stopped by to see Nannie you could leave it on the freezer. On the way out you just picked it up from the freezer.

I stood at the freezer with my aunt Noody on several Thanksgivings as she cut up the turkey before families arrived. She’d spread the giant bird out on the freezer, plates to the left for light meat, plates to the right for dark. The broad surface made a perfect work area.

Nannie left bags of homemade rolls on the freezer for me to deliver to aunts across the field. On countless summer evenings the freezer held glasses of iced tea, ash trays, and random conversation pieces brought over for a night of family stories on the porch. Sometimes the top of the freezer was cleared, newspaper spread, and a watermelon cut up for whoever happened to be visiting.

A lot of life revolved around that freezer.

Today the old freezer still runs on Daddy’s screened porch. I looked at it a few weeks ago. Nothing sits on top anymore, nothing being done there, nothing growing there as in the old days. I lifted the lid and the familiar screech was as strong as ever, the icy “smoke” still swirled, but the frosty racks were mostly empty.

Mama’s health issues have prevented her from gardening and freezing the summer’s goodies. I saw a few iced over packages labeled in her handwriting, “Corn 2012”, but they’re old and should be thrown away.

For decades that freezer was the accidental center of a lot of what Nannie and her huge extended family did. The conversations it heard, the family meals it held, the cousins, babies, and babies of cousins who wanted a turn sitting on its broad top are too numerous to ponder.

It’s still running, but just like the last few freezer burned packages of corn inside maybe the old chest freezer itself should finally be thrown away. But who could do that? Not me.

There’s a lot of life in that old freezer.

Stuart M. Perkins

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