Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Peanut Story

I was talking to a bookseller earlier tonight about the blog, and she approves. Then she mentioned a piece I wrote a few months back and had posted to a forum I frequent. It is about childhood, and memories, and holding on to both. I beg your indulgence, as I am going to post it here. It concerns Downtown, so I think it to be appropriate.

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I grew up on a small farm, about seventy five miles from Memphis, with my parents, brothers, and my maternal grandmother. She was an elegant, genteel lady, who lost her husband while still in her 40's. Due primarily to her upbringing, she had never learned to drive a car, and had not needed to until after his death. So, when she did learn (in her 40's) she was a very cautious driver.

She was of a generation who did their serious shopping "“downtown". This was before the rise of the suburbs and the shopping mall. However, not liking to drive, this posed a problem for her. In her typical, elegant fashion, she solved it.

It was late in my fourth year that she decided she needed to go downtown. She waited until my parents went to work, and then she loaded me into the car. We set off for the big city, driving at a stately 40 miles an hour (her top speed) up the highway, until we arrived at the Treasury department store at the city limits, where we parked the car and got on the bus going downtown. For a four year old, this was a blur of excitement, and while I have expressed it as narrative, it was, from my perspective, a series of images. My parents leaving, the covert piling in the car, the long drive on HWY 78.

I remember virtually nothing about the bus ride, except the colors everywhere. My existence till then had been primarily one of green in the summer and brown in the winter, but my, the cars and people everywhere. And the noise.

Downtown, I remember her death grip on my hand and walking through the department stores, the smell of the perfume counter. But, and thus the title of this long missive, the thing I remember the most clearly about the day was the Planters Peanut vendor on Main Street. It was actually a store, wedged into a space not much bigger than a shoebox, with a peanut roaster in the window and a real, live, Mr. Peanut on the street outside, trying to draw people into the store. I remember him shaking my hand, and my grandmother buying a bag of hot roasted peanuts. It is not difficult at all for me to smell the peanuts, to see the steam coming off them in the cool air, to feel the comforting warmth in my hands.

The only other thing I remember about the day was her telling me that the day was a secret, and we were NOT to tell my parents about it. I never did. That was in the winter, and she died in the spring. Her sister, my maternal Aunt, told my parents after the funeral. But I never said a thing. It was our own adventure, and my last memory of her that does not involve a hospital. For years, I kept the peanut bag, with the dark stains coming through from the peanut oil, in my box of memories, until in one of the many moves while in the Marine Corps, I lost the box. But if I close my eyes and let myself, I still have the peanuts.

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Thanks for reminding me, Michele.

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