Monday, September 14, 2009

Memory Monday: Finding Something to Do in a Small Town

Seymour, Texas, population 3467. Or something like that. I remember a similar figure on the signs at the town’s limits back in 1969. It probably hasn’t changed much.

There is not a lot to do in a small town.

The first limitation I noticed in Seymour was on the number of TV channels. There were three, two from “nearby” (50 miles away) Wichita Falls, and one from more distant Lawton, Oklahoma which did not have reliable reception. This small number did not shock me, even though I had been spoiled by living in TV-channel-rich Southern California, because one of my numerous “short-term” residences had been in Renton, Washington, where there had only been four channels.

The other major potential source of entertainment, the town library, was rather small, although it did contain many of the classics. Before moving to Seymour, I had lived with my Uncle Howard and Aunt Joy in Wilmington, California, for about half a year. It was there that Aunt Joy had taken my younger cousin and me to see Sergey Bondarchuk’s movie version of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. My cousin and I had become obsessed with it, and I was still in the grip of that obsession during that first summer in Seymour, so the first book I checked out of the library was War and Peace. I’ll be the first to admit that my understanding of the novel was greatly benefited by having seen the movie first.

There wasn’t any formal “young adult fiction” category in those days, so the first shelves I checked were Science Fiction and Mysteries. Only there weren’t any shelves for science fiction books. Or any science fiction books at all. The dismay I felt when that realization sank in was probably the low point of my process of adapting to my new surroundings. Which, when I think about it, was not all that low. But it felt really low at the time and was followed by a two-week “I really need to get back to California” pity party.

It was not until my senior year that I discovered the best solution: find a friend with a love of books and the means and wheels (= an adult) to feed that love in the form of a home library. My “book dealer” turned out to be one of my teachers who generously shared her library with my friends and me and ended up being a good friend. We spent many afternoons after school just hanging out and browsing through her books, which occupied an entire room in her house. She did not grant this privilege to just anyone, but favored only those she knew could be trusted with handling her books properly, or, as she put it, “Y’all don’t ‘read up’ my books the way some people do.”

There was also a tiny movie theater in Seymour. I only remember going there once, and that was to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. Seeing a grandiose futuristic movie in a cramped and decrepit theater was … strange.

Shopping in Seymour was not a form of entertainment. For most clothing and certain other items, we had to go to Wichita Falls. Mom and I did not have much “disposable income” for nonessentials or for the gas to drive to Wichita Falls (the bus fare for my oboe lessons in Wichita Falls used up most of that), so these trips were few and far between. My two most memorable purchases in Wichita Falls were: the soundtrack to War and Peace (yes, there was one, scandalously expensive at $5, for which I had to do a zillion chores to earn the money) and a Russian book (also expensive at $14.95, but I used some of my graduation money).

And the final major source of entertainment was just hanging out. Driving around town or sitting at home or walking to the park and talking. Or driving to the Dairy Mart and seeing who all was there.

Gosh, I miss being able to do nothing.

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