Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lovington, Part I

Since my coursework is the only writing I have time for right now, I decided to post some of the things I've been working on this semester. For my Nonfiction: Biography/Autobiography class, I've been working on my memoirs. Here is the first bit of a 50+ page assigment. Enjoy.

Somehow, New Mexico became the answer.

My dad was using an accounting degree he never wanted. He had music in his blood, not numbers. But his CPA father had dreams of “Hamby & Hamby” on the sign outside the firm in their southeast Texas town of Beaumont. He would only pay for college if my dad got an accounting degree. This is how my dad became a CPA against his will.

But forced careers will only get you so far. By the time he and my mom had a toddler, my dad needed another job. Something that wouldn’t kill him from the inside-out. There was only one vocation more noble than accounting to his father. If my dad went into ministry, he could escape the number-crunching and still have his father’s blessing. And a family friend knew of a church in New Mexico. So my parents sold their house, packed their stuff, and with a 4-year-old in the backseat and me tucked away in my mother’s womb, they said goodbye to all four of my grandparents. Then they set off for a drive clear across Texas.

Parts of New Mexico are breathtaking. The ancestral puebloan ruins of Chaco Canyon in the northwest. The centuries-old churches of Santa Fe. The mountains of Taos that lie under a blanket of pristine snow. Stately mesas that line the horizon beneath a massive canopy of clean blue sky.

Lovington was near none of this. Lovington sulked away in the forgotten and lonely southeast corner of the state. The town smelled of stockyards and a soon-to-close oil refinery. The relentless wind kept a fresh layer of dirt on everything. There were a few elegant homes, which were a mystery to me since I couldn’t imagine how people got rich out there. Neighborhoods of poor to modest homes filled out the rest of the town. On the outskirts, Mexican migrant workers dwelled in trailers with rubber tires on top to keep the never-ending wind from blowing the roofs away. Decades later, a Lovington High School graduate named Brian Urlacher would become the NFL Rookie of the Year and finally bring a gleam of pride to the town’s eye. But in 1971, Lovington had no one to cheer for; no future to hope in. Just dirt, wind and a horizon that was too far away.

My parents rented a house on Birch Street. I showed up a few months later, rounding us out to a family of four. My mother had grown up the child of an Army officer, and she had come of age in exotic places like Panama and Japan. Now she was the mother of two young children in a drying-up oil town that stood on the verge of being blown across the New Mexico desert at any moment. She took her circumstances in stride, however, and created a safe, happy home for my brother and me.

My memories in the Birch Street house are of gradually becoming aware of the world around me. I woke up in my crib from a nap one day and decided the crib railing would be a nice place to sit while I looked at a book. Suddenly, everything became a rushed blur as I fell backward and landed with a thud on the floor. My cries brought my mother, who scooped me up, took me to the living room couch and distracted me from my trauma with the bright color pictures of a catalog. I had learned, as all young children do, that gravity, while necessary, can be a merciless enemy.

I developed a fear of storms in Lovington. A tiny town on the broad New Mexico plains has nowhere to hide from the Armageddon-like storms that would brew in the late spring skies. A sudden gust of cool wind on a warm evening told us nature’s rage was on its way. Within minutes, the sky turned the color of a deep bruise and flashes of lightning jagged all around. Once we were watching out the window and an especially large dagger of lightning stabbed down toward the earth. For the fraction of a second that it was visible, we saw two long spikes shoot upward, like angry rabbit ears.

“That one looked like Bugs Bunny,” my mother said, in an attempt to comfort me. I was still terrified. Bugs Bunny was a harmless character who made me laugh. He would never explode out of the sky and scare me out of my wits.

Thunder was the worst. Sudden loud noises are scary enough for a child, and thunder, with its mysterious origin and with no way to make it stop, created an inescapable horror. I could close a book with scary pictures, or carefully avoid my brother’s rubber snakes, but thunder had to be endured until it was gone.

(to be continued...)


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