I haven’t been home in thirteen years. The little mid-west town, of now forty five hundred, felt strange, nostalgic, nauseatingly exciting.
“I need to slow down!” I said to myself. “It’s only Twenty here.” The sign went behind me on the right. That speed limit hadn’t changed.
I stayed to the right as the “main drag” curved to the left. The cemetery was straight ahead. It’s guaranteed to be where I left it. I think my home town has lost enough people now, that the names count in the cemetery equals the “above ground” that are still living here.
Just before the cemetery’s wrought iron gate and the wrought iron overhead that says CEMETERY, is a sharp left by-pass that puts me back on the highway through town.
I must have used this turn-around five-thousand times in my ’53, sometimes searching, sometimes with my date close by my side.
Whoa, there’s a Casey’s Quick Stop, and there’s one of my classmates sitting out front in his coveralls having a soda pop. He’s supervising the traffic today.
To myself, “Slow down, idiot! You are going to be contributing to the deputy’s retirement fund like the people you read about in the mailed newspaper.”
Back in Tucson, if you don’t drive fifty-five in the forty-five mph zone, someone will run right up your tail pipe.
Two stoplights? We have two stoplights! There’s the one at Main Street and now, one at the highways intersection. It seems strange to stop where I’ve never had to stop before. Oh well, I waited for the green and drove on to the west edge of town.
“There it is The Town House Supper Club.”
The now chipped and hail damaged road sign at one time announced:
Now Playing Wed, Fri, Sat
JB and Soda
Smorgasbord Every Fri 5-7
It was a standing joke that I was the “da” in the name. The club owner/band leaders initials were JB, and the piano player Doug, quickly claimed the “So”.
Our band had a chance to go on the road so, the business was sold. It survived about a year. After twelve years of every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with our band, it died the slow death of loneliness.
I heard someone turned it into an antique barn for a while, but the steakhouse was built on a slough and the building began to sink in one corner. I think it was suicide.
“Pull in. No, don’t pull in. Oh damn, I pulled in.”
They’re hauling everything out.
Look! They are rolling out a worn down piano.
It’s, it’s the one Doug played. There’s the pink “Teddy Bear” decal on the side.
Who would have believed this would be happening the one moment I pulled into memory lane?
(I hear in my mind)
Don’t wanna be….Your Teddy Bear.
I fell in to a burnin’ ring of fire!
That old piano was always a bit out of tune. But, this was good because, it made our music sound a little bit honky tonk which, added to the ambience of the place. It must have sounded ok because we packed the house with the best, hardest playing, and hardest working people in the world for a pile of years.
I walked up to the open front door of the now empty building. I didn’t get two steps in, and I could smell the stale beer smell that came up from the floor or out of the walls and ceiling.
At first, I thought it was the silence allowing the music in my memories to fire off at a tremendous, deafening pace. Then, I could see vapors of the dancers, dancing in front of me and my drums, and grinning. I could hear the echoes of the class reunion in the party room to the left. I thought I heard my name mentioned somewhere in that reunion crowd.
It was more than just memories. The place was talking to me. It almost seemed like a homecoming celebration was going on. When the dancers stopped to look in my direction, my heart began to pound.
I’m watering up. I gotta go.
“I told you not to come out here!” I consciously said to myself, scared.
As I turned to leave, I kicked an old beer bottle that must have come out of hiding during the emptying of the building. This, a real, tangible, noisy ghost had managed to hide from everyone else until this moment.
It spun and tumbled across the dining area, then skidded across the dance floor right through the dancers. The dancer’s eyes followed it as it came to rest against the riser of the old stage. When it hit, the brown bottle stood on its bottom with the label facing me as if to salute, Grain Belt Beer, another relic.
I don’t even remember going through the doorway.
I do remember the bead of sweat on my upper lip and the tremble in my hand as I put the key in the ignition.