Montgomery Gentry sings “My Town” with enough pride and enthusiasm to make a body want to move to “his town” and settle right in. Reminiscing about the “good ole days” during the simple days of yesteryear is a staple of country music, and I think it’s easy to relate to for various reasons.
The lyrics below give a vivid picture of the struggle between wanting to leave home in search of independence and wanting to stay connected to familiar roots.
Yeah, this is my town.
(Na, na, na, na, na.)
Where I was born, where I was raised.
Where I keep all my yesterdays.
Where I ran off ‘cuz I got mad,
An’ it came to blows with my old man.
Where I came back to settle down,
It’s where they’ll put me in the ground:
This is my town.
It isn’t that I actually want to move back to my hometown, it’s more of a desire to have roots and a place to call home. I am considering visiting my hometown someday to get some closure and fresh perspective on how isolated my childhood years were. I’d also like to reclaim the good things I experienced that have been overshadowed by my abuse.
When I’ve shown pictures to people of where I grew up, their reactions never cease to surprise me. They are in complete shock, even after I’ve told them it was a town of 500 people accessible by air only. At a friend’s suggestion, I decided to share some stories and photos with you today.
Naturally, we all think our environments are normal as we grow up. The main thing I’m processing lately is just how isolated I was. Of course this was before the internet and cell phones, so we were always a few years behind on everything from music to clothes. Mail and newspapers were flown in twice a week. Our groceries arrived once a month. Talk about meal planning!
Town consisted of a post office, an airplane terminal, the FAA/Weather Bureau building, two bars, the roadhouse (more of hostel), a grocery store, and a school (K-12 = 100 students). We had five miles of a dead-end dirt road that extended from the runway to the dump at the end of town.
In winter, the frozen river became a ‘road’ of sorts for snowmobiles, dog mushers, cross country skiers and small planes on skis. We always had snow for Halloween and had to wear costumes over our parkas. Snow stayed until long after Easter and I never could figure out why the story books talked about Easter egg hunts being held outside and why all the girls were wearing their pretty dresses. We still had several feet of snow on the ground!
Spring breakup (May) was an exciting time. There was always a big outdoor potluck down at the end of the runway at edge of the river; most of the town participated. We’d listen to the river ice groan and creak as it tried to bust apart and go downriver. Sometimes the ice would jam and chunks would pile up as high as a building. Flooding was always a concern, but I only remember one year the entire town flooding.
In summer, the mosquitoes were so bad a truck would come through town and spray a chemical fog to kill them. Many of us kids would run behind the truck and try to stay in the fog to escape the bugs. No one knew how dangerous that must have been for our health. The dust was so bad on the dirt roads they’d spray oil to keep it down. My bicycle tires were often covered in oil and it would flick onto my pants. What a mess!
Fall was berry picking and moose hunting season. Many residents relied on moose meat to sustain them for the winter. My dad would get a moose every year. By spring, mom and I would both be really tired of it. School would start in late August, and then moose season would open up Labor Day weekend. We’d have a few days off so the boys could go hunting, then school would be back in session again. During the school year, some of the boys would go rabbit or squirrel hunting after school. They’d bring their guns to school in the morning and leave them in the coat closet during class. There was never a shooting – accidental or otherwise – in all 11 years I went to school there. We were all taught to respect guns and no one ever threatened anyone with one.
We didn’t have a school bus; everyone walked, biked, skied or rode a snowmobile to school. Although I did not walk uphill both directions , I did frequently walk to school in below zero weather. Temperatures were commonly -25 or colder for several months. The only time I remember school being closed due to weather was when the water pipes broke at -60. The maintenance man had his hands full that day.
To get to the swimming hole, we had to walk across the runway (look both ways for planes before crossing!). It was more of a mud hole, really, and it was full of leeches. We always took a book of matches and a salt shaker when we went. The deal was, when you got out of the water, someone would look you over really well and burn or salt the little suckers right away. (Yes, I thought this was normal!) Even when we were only about 10 years old, us kids would head over there all alone. No parents, no lifeguards, no life jackets. When I was about 11 two of my friends decided I needed to learn to swim. (I didn’t even know how to dog paddle yet.) They brilliantly decided the best way to teach me was to pull me out over my head and let go. Suffice it to say I panicked and nearly drowned all three of us.
What do you think of my hometown? What’s your hometown like?