Another bit of writing from about 15 years ago that I added to today.
New Lebanon, Ohio is a small town. Small enough that you know everyone and everyone knows you. To walk from one side of the town to the other only took an hour or two depending on how fast you walked. At least that is how I remember it. There are more churches than bars and at one time we only had one grocery store. In the 60’s the high school basketball team, the Dixie Greyhounds, won the state championship and there is still a sign at the city limits to let you know that. The local hang out when I was in high school was the dairy queen because the Toot which used to be the hang out was gone. The only interesting thing to do when you became old enough to drive was to drive the loop. We would start at the edge of town at the Dairy Queen after we hung out long enough to be told “You kids need to find something to do besides taking up all this space”. Then we would decide who was going to ride with who and we began the nightly ritual of driving up and down Main Street. Loop around the Dairy Queen, past the High School and the water tower, into the downtown where the library and the bank were, past the only bar in town (nicknamed the crack) and down to the dentist’s office to loop the parking lot and start again. New Lebanon was known as Magic City when I was in high school because the only thing to do was drive the loop and get high. Off from the main street all the streets led to the housing developments which we called tracts. Houses upon houses that all look alike: rectangular, brick with two car garages and two trees in the front yard. Each one looked slightly different depending of the personality of the people who lived there. Our neighbor had a bird bath in the front yard and used white rocks to fill up the spaces around the bushes. Our house had black bark around the bushes and black shutters. Some houses had fences and others didn’t. For the most part they all looked alike from the outside.
Our house inside never seemed to change. I always wondered what other houses were like inside. We had the same furniture until I was 17 and moving out. Our living room had green curtains with plastic backing. There was a huge dark wood bookshelf with the Encyclopedia Britannia from 1965 and books my dad collected from book clubs by mail. There was a gold couch that was worn from years of my dad sleeping on it all the time. Two end tables with nothing on them but a lamp and a coffee table with a giant family bible on it that had nothing written in it. There were two things on the white walls of the living room, a huge mirror that was framed with gold grapes and a picture of a seashore that was distorted and dark. The pictures were on opposite walls so when you looked in the mirror you saw the distorted seashore behind you. The carpet was green and sculpted. I hated green.
The den was bare also. We had one picture on the wall above the leather couch; it was a picture of musical instruments which were distorted and black with lots of red in the picture. The picture just looked mad and confused. The couch was this horrid black thing that you would sweat and stick to in the summer. In front of the couch there was a coffee table my sister carved a picture of big bird into, it had a small drawer in it that contained nothing. At the end of the couch was a cabinet stereo that had sliding drawers and was full of records by the Irish Rovers, Janis Joplin, Glen Campbell, Percy Sledge and other artists that I became familiar with over the years. At the end of the room in the corner facing the couch and the kitchen was a black and white console TV with a knob for channeling. The only remote in the house at that time was my sister and I. Off to one side was my father’s black lazy chair, no one dared to sit in it except him. He used to scrape his feet with a paring knife while he sat in it so there was always this fear that I was going to touch that dead skin if I went near it. The carpet from the living room also spilled into this room and was the same boring green, the curtains? Green. We did have a fish tank for a short time but I accidently killed the fish. I had seen my dad putting ice cubes in the tank when we got it and so I thought that was something you were supposed to do. The next time the babysitter was with us I told her we had to put ice in the tank and all the fish died that night. My dad called me the fish killer for weeks.
In the kitchen we had a big oval table by the glass sliding patio doors. It had big soft wheels and the material on the chairs was almost the color of my skin and was some kind of fake leather. There was never a centerpiece on the table. It was always bare. We did not have placemats or napkins. The kitchen had nothing on the walls and the counter only had canisters for sugar and flour. They were silver with black lids. Our stove and refrigerator were avocado and the fridge had a drawer on the bottom. The Washer and dryer was also avocado. It seemed so bare in there, so bare that if you talked too loud it would echo.
Now I decorate every inch of my life. I cover up the tables with flowers and Knick knacks and cover the walls with pictures and the trappings of my life. I string lights from the ceilings and around the windows. I am afraid of the bareness. Today I live far away from that place of emptiness but on days when I miss my family I get in my car and I drive from my house to the grocery store down the road and make the loop through the parking lot and then come back down my street and make the loop over and over until my heart calms down again.