Finger-painting drummer


Today was a day to meander back to my home town of St. Helena, CA. The photo to the left is where I was raised, a home in the vineyards, among the dirt clods, and grapevines. The soil here seems different from in Seattle, drier, lighter-colored, clumpier. Funny to be nostalgic about dirt, but there you have it, a small town girl raised on a ranch and dirt was a big part of the experience. You walk differently on freshly disked earth, carefully, tramping with higher steps, testing your balance, and it has a fresh, weedy, damp smell like nothing I’ve experienced in Washington. 

The town is still small and quaint, and a lot more tourist oriented than it was 30 years ago. But my elementary school is almost exactly the same.

I went into my kindergarten classroom and took pictures, recalling my favorite activity, FINGER PAINTING! I really should try that again along this trip. I haven’t put fingers to gooey paint since my girls were little, and it’s always good to be reminded that messiness can feel terrific. I wandered through the school yard remembering vividly the exact spot where a boy was teased and taunted because of an infirmity and the pain I experienced watching him and wondering today why I didn’t stand up for him. At 9 years old I knew what was right and wrong but not how to defend it. This may have been the first time I cried at the ugliness of inequality.

I meandered into the auditorium where I had my first audition in the 4th grade. It was for band and one at a time we were told to play on all of the available instruments and then the director would decide which instrument we were best suited for and assign them. Afterwards I was given the choice of trumpet or drums and I cried in the hallway because those were “boy” instruments and I wanted to play clarinet or flute. Mr. Graf, the band instructor, relented and I proudly brought home a shiny, new, black clarinet. Later I went to college on a saxophone scholarship, so I was the author of my own experience even back then. The sight-reading expertise I gained with the woodwind section was invaluable, though I do regret not trying the drums. Maybe now it’s time to take them up? A finger-painting drummer that stands up for injustice, my future is unfolding!

I roamed through the grove of huge evergreens where we played marbles in the dirt, this time the soil is hard and smooth, perfect for fast rolling marbles and digging little holes for them to land in. The dodgeball court is converted into a media center but the white hopscotch outlines are still on the playground. Across the street the beautiful little Carnegie Public Library is there but the books have been relocated, the interior converted into a community center. I can still feel the wonder and amazement of going into the library and being allowed to take home any 3 books that I wanted. A cherished luxury that brought awe and respect and keeps me in love with libraries today.

And lastly I wandered down the street, past the open door of the stone Catholic Church to the lovely stone-sided Episcopalian Church where I spent many an hour alone in later years exploring spirituality and the beauty of God. I was amazed to find these churches still keep their doors open at all hours for the seeking, pondering souls that show up on their doorstep. I was grateful to step inside and be abruptly hit by the beautiful smell of beeswax candles. It took me back instantly to 1979 and being proposed to in the quiet, dark, candle-lit chancel.

I recommend a stroll down memory lane some time. Not only did it remind me of my roots, but it spurred me on to continue the lessons I started WAY BACK then. Seeing the exact places, touching the chairs and tree bark, and ingesting the smells, I remembered scenes that I never planned to. I am still effected by the issues that haunted me then and whether I know it or not those details shape my life today. It is absurd to think how little I have changed.


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