I grew up in a very small town in upstate New York. Fort Hunter was on the other side of the Mohawk River, across the old narrow bridge from where the action happened. The action being school, shopping, other people. I often wonder if my childhood would have been different if I hadn’t felt so isolated in that town of a few hundred. Isolated because most of schoolmates lived across the river, yet I always felt like I was being watched, studied for my eccentricities. Small towns can make you paranoid.
Yet what I liked most about where I lived was that it was in the country, fairly surrounded by farm land. A corn field bordered our back yard. Another one was across our street, and still another stretched between the house next to us and the two-room schoolhouse where I went to first and second grades. I still remember the still, humid air of summer and the drone of flies, the sound of my father’s push mower as he sliced through grass and the sweet smell of that freshly cut grass scenting the air.
I remember the fall, my favorite season, with the riot of reds, oranges, and yellows in the trees, the jugs of apple cider that we would get from the apple mill (in another town, of course), the sweet, creamy pumpkin pies, the bite of the crisp air making me feel alive among the spreading decay.
I remember winter nights where the full moon would reflect off the blankets of snow and you could see as well as if it were daylight. I loved the crunch of my boots in the snow, making knee-deep trails around my house and through the fields. In winter, my brother and I would fight for space on our floor furnace, the only source of heat in our two-story house. I remember my mother once cutting a hole in the kitchen ceiling through to my bedroom. She said it was to allow heat from the stove to rise and warm my room. I considered it an invasion of privacy. I would rather freeze, I thought, than let anyone hear me read out loud to myself.
I remember the muddy springs, the air heavy with the thaw of rotting vegetation, the air cool but not crisp like fall nor sharp like winter. Spring air held the promise of summer, of sun and warm, a promise that it held off as long as it could. I remember one May day when it snowed.
My memories are less of people than they are of smells and sounds and the way the air feels on my skin. Whenever I go home, I always have a sense of time stopping or even turning back. Probably because in so many ways time has retreated. The population of Fort Hunter continues to decline. A devastating flood from a few years ago destroyed my childhood home and the houses on either side of it. The post office, my lifeblood since there were no computers in my childhood, has since been closed. For years, the State of New York has been turning the land in my small town into a state park.
Some day I will go home and all I will have left are the sounds, smells, and the feel of the air on my skin.