Friday, February 14, 2014

2721 S. Church Street

We have come to expect change as normal.  "Things change" we say.

 And then, we stumble across a place that time does not seem to touch.  And we are changed.

2721 S. Church Street was the address I memorized when I was four years old.  It was the address I gave my first grade teacher when she asked me where I lived.  Occasionally I will revisit it when I visit my hometown and I am always amazed that the house and the yard and the neighborhood look the same as the day we drove away.

The road beside the house is still unpaved. The old detached garage with the dirt floors and weathered sideboards still stand in the back yard.  The cement picnic table on which my brother, Keith, and our friend Alan Ray, and I climbed and jumped off trying to fly, sat like a monument to those days.  The brick barbecue still stood beside the table, with its chimney reaching upward. The house with the wooden screened in back porch, where our toy box sat that dad nailed together and painted and mom put decals on, is essentially the same.

The house across the road where Alan Ray lived has also been untouched by time.  As I stand in the backyard I see the shed where we used to play.  To my right is the back porch under which their dog Stumpy used to sleep.  Stumpy was born with stumps for legs and he was blind in one eye.  He had a mean disposition and would slither along the ground like a snake trying to bite me.  Luckily he was not too difficult to outrun. But, he was scary.  I would always approach that back porch on tip-toe, looking underneath, dreading the sight I would always see; Stumpy with his yellow teeth bared and his good eye looking hatefully back at me.

Our house sat in front of the train tracks where there was some sort of station that caused the trains to slow down and even come to a stop.  There was a steel structure called a "catwalk" that stretched out over the tracks.  It had a ladder that my sister and I used to climb to the top of it, and we would sit, dangling our feet as the trains passed underneath us.  At night I would hear their whistles blow deep into the night and I wanted to ride the trains, to go where they were going, and to see the things that they would see.

Because the trains had to slow down near this station, the hobos riding the train would take that opportunity to jump off the train and would walk up the road to our home.  Some would stop and ask for food.  Mom would give them what she had.

One night a box car exploded.  The night sky was lit up like day and all the fire engines and firemen in Rocky Mount were there fighting the fire.  We later learned that it was some sort of chemical that had exploded.  All of the adults were concerned, but for the children who lived there it was an adventure like no other.

My parents built a new home and we moved away from 2721 S. Church Street when I was nine. But if you stand by the road today, you can still see the house and the yard as I saw them.  If you stand by the tracks, you can still see the slowing trains coming in.  The rusting catwalk still stands nearby.  And the train whistles will still take you away with them.