David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Native Son #2
Posted on May 19th, 2014

After more than a half century, the advantage to living in your home town is memory.

Everywhere I turn, some building, sign, street corner, breeze off the river, evokes a recollection. I drive past the Diamond and easily, lazily, I see rickety Parker Field, me sitting beside my father at a Virginians game. My dad, the prominent face on a child’s private Rushmore, gives me three dollars and tells me to bring back dogs, a beer, and a Pepsi. When I return, I get to keep the change.

I pass the old Thalhimers building on Broad Street. With a blink, my mother tows me to the perfume counter. I pinch my nostrils while she samples. My reward for squirmy patience is a macaroon from the bakery while she buys bread. A book from Cokesbury or a pistachio ice cream from the Clover Room. Maybe a stroll beside Mirror Lake to feed pigeons while folks paddle the lily pond.

On the tracks beside the James River, I believed ghosts swung lanterns to look for their severed heads. I flattened pennies on the rails.

At the Virginia Museum, my mother made up stories while we gazed at the famous mummy. She told her tales loud enough to scare other nearby kids. I knew it was just her imagination that I prayed I’d inherited.

I have lain with high school dates in the grass before the runway at Byrd Field, under jets low at night with fiery wings, on a blanket trying for the right whispers under the roars.

With my reprobate pals in the east end, we threw dirt clogs at trucks charging down the new Interstate 64. We snuck lawn chairs into the Airport Drive In, or hid in each other’s car trunks. We made the backs of pick-up trucks comfortable. We got away with it, got caught, had close calls.

Across this city, there are porches I have leaped from, drank on, where I smoked, coughed, and decided cigarettes weren’t for me. There are windows where I have watched tumbling snow, and behind which I have been loved.

And there are windows behind which I have suffered from love. There are porches I have been knocked from, upchucked off of, run from when caught doing what I shouldn’t.

I recall new blue Impalas in the driveway of our little house, and my brave father unable to get out of those cars on one bad day or another because of his MS.

That’s the thing about living in your hometown. Memory.

You don’t get to beckon recollections like a pet, download them like a song. You get what you get when you get it, and the triggers are omnipresent. Dogwood Dell, Hollywood Cemetery, Byrd Theater, Joe’s Inn, Cloverleaf Mall, the Coliseum, the city is a pincushion of my lifelong aches and joys. I have a shame to leaven every triumph. Every time I smile at what the dead have given me, some skeleton rattles a chalky finger to remind me of how often the dead were upset with me in life.

Recently, I enjoyed a performance at CenterStage. Throughout, I could not silence the distraction near my seat of my mother opening a hard candy in the dark fifty years ago during El Cid. Then, this grand building was the Lowe’s Theater and projected clouds drifted across the ceiling of the Moorish garden that was its décor. Mom was a considerate woman. She would not open the sweet’s wrapper quickly and loudly. The drawn-out crackling and crinkling was torturous to an avid and sensitive boy. Once she pried it open, she rolled the candy around her dentures until she crunched. On screen, El Cid died in the saddle, no more than me in my seat.
In CenterStage, the orchestra number ended. The audience snapped into applause. I clapped, too. A tear broke on my cheek; I rubbed it away quickly so not to explain it.

This is life in your hometown. A good, quiet cry under the applause. A mélange of sights and senses that may not be what you’re actually experiencing in the moment. It’s marvelous and melancholy. It’s why Richmond, for us natives, is truly a city of monuments.

Posted in Boomer Mag, Boomer Articles    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, rva, hometown, memory


Leave a Comment