Write About Your Home Town (Then and/or Now)



Mother, Daddy and other summer worries.
By Mary Karr (The New Yorker, September 4, 2000)


The summer of 1966 in Leechfield, Texas, was the first of many vastly vacant summers in that stalled and humid place. I was eleven, and fell into reading as into a deep well where no voice could reach me. I read the “Tarzan” books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and fancied myself running away to Africa to find just such an ape-man to swing me from vine to vine. I used to recite a poem about a goat-footed balloon man, and another about somebody stealing somebody else’s plums and saying he was sorry but not really meaning it. I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” three times in one week, till the binding came unglued and had to be masking-taped back on. In the second or third grade, I’d seen the movie, and had always superimposed my own face over that of the puckish Scout, while picturing the chiseled young Gregory Peck for my boyfriend.

The house was empty When Daddy wasn’t pulling shift work at the refinery he was trying to cadge some sleep, or else was off on his mysterious “rounds.” At thirteen, my sister Lecia filled out a 36-C cup and was dating a variety of football stars. When she climbed the bleachers with legs a yard long in cutoff jeans, her blond flip sprayed into a form no wind could alter, high-school boys stood up by the row. And Mother was at college studying for her teaching certificate in fine arts (she was a painter)—a real oddity back then. But she wanted a higher standard of life than the local average and feared destitution at every turn. Her college work seemed to me like yet another escape from the banality of time at home with us.

Mother had a history of hasty marriages and equally hasty dissolutions. Pretty much if you pissed her off good, you could expect to hear her tires tearing out the driveway and then, within days, the knuckles of a process server rapping on your door with divorce papers. She’d ultimately rack up seven marriages in all, but, at the time, we’d witnessed only the two to my daddy—with the short, nearly negligible blip of my stepfather. (He’d appeared after my grandmother’s death, after Mother had been briefly carted off to the hospital for—among other things—the vast quantities of vodka she’d managed to guzzle.)

The house that summer held me in a kind of misty nether time. The air-conditioner hummed. The refrigerator kicked on and lapsed off I waited a lot, though for what I don’t know. Nothing whatsoever seemed to be approaching from any direction. After I watched “The Song of Bernadette” on TV, I drew a picture of Jesus in my glitterspackled book. For a while, I prayed ardently on my knees by my bedside— sometimes for titties or for John Cleary to ask me to the couples skate, but mostly for a best friend.


You stand there, braced. Cloud shadows race over the buff rock stacks as a projected film, casting a queasy, mottled ground rash. The air hisses and it is no local breeze but the great harsh sweep of wind from the turning of the earth. The wild country—indigo jags of mountain, grassy plain everlasting, tumbled stones like fallen cities, the flaring roll of sky—provokes a spiritual shudder. It is like a deep note that cannot be heard but is felt, it is like a claw in the gut.

Dangerous and indifferent ground: against its fixed mass the tragedies of people count for nothing although the signs of misadventure are everywhere. No past slaughter nor cruelty, no accident nor murder that occurs on the little ranches or at the isolate crossroads with their bare populations of three or seventeen, or in the reckless trailer courts of mining towns delays the flood of morning light. Fences, cattle, roads, refineries, mines, gravel pits, traffic lights, graffiti’d celebration of athletic victory on bridge overpass, crust of blood on the Wal-Mart - loading dock, the sun-faded wreaths of plastic flowers marking death on the highway are ephemeral. Other cultures have camped here a while and disappeared. Only earth and sky matter. Only the endlessly repeated flood of morning light. You begin to see that God does not owe us much beyond that.

from CLOSE RANGE: Wyoming Stories, by Annie Proulx


The other night I had a dream that I was sitting on the sidewalk on Moody Street, Pawtucketville, Lowell, Mass., with a pencil and paper in my hand saying to myself "Describe the wrinkly tar of this sidewalk, also the iron pickets of Textile Institute, or the doorway where Lousy and you and G.J.’s always sittin and dont stop to think of words when you do stop, just stop to think of the picture better - and let your mind off yourself in this work.” -

From the wrinkly tar corner Moody begins her suburban rise through the salt white tenements of Pawtucketvifle to reach a Greek peak at the Dracut border wild woods surrounding Lowell, where Greek veterans of American occupation from Crete rush in the early morn with a pail for the goat in the meadow—Drabut Tigers is the name of the Meadow, it is where in the late summer we conduct ‘vast baseball series in a gray clawmouth rainy dark of Final Games, September, Leo Martin pitching, Gene Plouffe shortstop, Joe Plouffe (in the soft piss. of mists) temporarily playing rightfield… Moody Street that begins a den of thieves near the City Hall concludes ‘mongst ballplayers of the windy hill (all roar like Denver, Minneapolis, St. Paul with the activities of ten thousand heroes of poolhall, field and porch) (hear the hunters crash their guns in skinny black brakes, making deer covers for their motors)—up goes old Moody Street, pest Gershom, Mt. Vernon and furthers, to lose itself at the end of the car line, top of the switchpole in trolley days, now place where busdriver checks yellow wristwatch—lost in birch woods of crow time. There you can turn and survey all of Lowell, on a dry bitterly cold night after a blizzard, in the keen edgeblue night etching her old rosy face City Hall clock to the prunes of heaven those flashing stars; from Billenca the wind came blowing dry sun-winds against moisty blizzard-clouds and ended up the storm and made news; you see all Lowell ...

Survivor of the storm, all white and still in a keen.

Jack Kerouac, Dr. Sax


One grey November during the last years of the seventies, in South City (one of Northern California’s many suburbs), there occurred a day full of particularly random events. As the years have gone by, few have held on to the newspaper clippings, and most people have forgotten entirely of the fortune (or misfortune) brought by that day’s events.

During those momentous 24 hours there was an abnormal electrical current in the air, most likely due to a string of massive lightning storms that had passed through the area in the preceding weeks. This electrical current caused a slew of South City residents to experience uncontrollable hair. It was no coincidence that the percentage of people to call in sick at work that day was up by sixteen percent. Also, it is said that four dogs on West Orange Avenue broke free from their yards and ran through the town, terrorizing every cat in a six—mile radius. The dogcatcher was called back into work, despite the uncontrollable hair.

Thirty-two babies were brought to the nearby hospitals with fearsome cases of the hiccups, seventeen teenage girls shaved their heads, and seven percent of the blackbird population dropped dead.

The most astonishing statistic, however, is the number of people who are said to have fallen in love. Thirty-eight people from the Sunshine district, eleven in the Hillside district,Forty-four on Grand avenue alone, and six bartenders from “Alleyoop’s” all claim to have fallen head over heels in love with the man or woman of their dreams on that particular day.

Among the ninety-nine people in South City to fall in love were my parents, Manuel Mejia—Mares and Deborah Jones.

If I’d had anything to do with my conception, the preceding story would be true, alas; the truth is even more ridiculous than that. My folks met at the Jack in the Box on the corner of Spruce and Railroad Avenues. My Dad says that he and my Mom worked there together, but my Mom always denied that, and said that she just happened to have a rare hankering for a burger. She also said that she mistook my Dad for a girl because of his long hair, but she probably just said that to cut Dad down. In all probability, Mom fell in love with Dad at first sight, paper hat and all.

Melina Mejia, Writer's Craft



Back to the top.


Mary Karr