The smell of our lawn just after a summer rain gives way to sunshine.
Buckled sidewalks in old parts of town where ancient trees reclaim their roots.
Stately brick buildings that look as if they had grown out of the ground long, long ago.
A vision of my father throwing stones in the White River, making them skip three times before they descend into green depths.
Family gatherings where immigrant friends and relatives speak English with heavy Greek accents.
All of these mental pictures define my Muncie, Indiana experience and crowd my memory with black and white snapshots in time. As I begin to think about revisiting Muncie in a few months, I know it will be an emotional experience for me. It will remind me of family members now long gone, make feelings surface I had long ago forgotten, and force me to feel a bit ashamed of my nearly constant preoccupation with escape during the twelve years I lived there from 1961 to 1973.
Those of you who knew me before I left Muncie knew I never completely felt a part of it, as my father had. I couldn’t understand why my dad had made the decision to move us there even though we visited there each summer from California. Kids simply don’t process much when trying to understand their parents’ motives, after all.
Our existence in Muncie during the time I lived there revolved around my father’s store on West Charles Street in Muncie’s downtown. Our lives were immersed in a sea of pianos and “home” organs, pretty popular at the time. You see, before we moved to Muncie, I never got to spend much time with my dad except for those summer treks to Muncie from San Francisco, when we piled into the 1955 Mercury, stopping along the way for photographs with Indians, to dip our feet in the Great Salt Lake, or to take a look down what seemed like thousands of feet from a single suspension bridge at the Royal Gorge. Dad worked a “corporate” job in sales in San Francisco, which kept him on the road much of the week, meeting with and entertaining clients. It was a treat when he was home, but I could see the toll his absences were taking on Mom, who felt increasingly irrelevant as my brothers and I stopped needing her every second. So when my father quit his job and announced we would be moving to Muncie, I didn’t know how to take it. What would it mean?
Through my 9-year old eyes, suddenly Muncie transformed from a family vacation destination (to visit my father’s family) into something much different. It took on a new persona that was both confusing and curious to me. It was a place where other people did not make Saturday night tacos, and a place where pizzas were not gooey. Instead, they were cut into tiny squares. I detected a sing-song-y quality to people’s voices with accents on different syllables than the ones I knew. Even words were different. A sofa became a “davenport” and a Coke was dubbed “pop.” Bell peppers were called “mangos”, no longer counted among the tropical fruits we knew about in California. One had to watch weather reports all week long in order to plan something for the weekend. There were no mountains to look at, no oceans to drive to, and bugs lit up on balmy summer nights.
Aside from the comparisons I made to our former life on the left coast, my parents did not make things any easier on me, their only daughter. They forbid me to talk to boys on the phone, attend proms, sleep over with girlfriends or even have a date during high school, thinking I would reject my hyphenated ethnic background and assimilate too much into the American melting pot. While they dearly loved this country and were proud of the sacrifices their own parents made to get here, our ethnic roots were something they never wanted my brothers and I to forget.
So I look back now and think about what those years in Muncie truly meant in the big scheme of things. How had they contributed to how I turned out, as well as how I would eventually raise my own child?
In the end, I have decided that Muncie was my life’s springboard, offering a foundation of both knowledge and security. Muncie schools lent a framework and guide to what lay ahead, Muncie citizens helped make my father a successful business owner, creating enough income for the grandchildren of immigrants with third grade educations to earn college degrees from the town’s beautiful university, and for my long-awaited escape to study abroad before getting that degree. It taught me the beauty and simplicity of small town life — the thrill of local teams’ sports victories and how a simple stroll through the downtown on a Friday night could cure any lousy week spent at school.
So as I visit Muncie this summer, despite the warnings of the locals on Facebook’s “Lost Muncie” page about how different it is now compared to when I left, I plan to let those thoughts I mentioned wash over me. I won’t go there with any focused expectations, and I won’t go looking for what has been replaced or destroyed. My dream is to try to see Muncie for the threads it wove into the fabric of my life, both colorful and meaningfully mundane. I plan to write about it when I am there and hope you will follow my blog if this interests you.
And I know I will be grateful for whatever role those twelve years played in what I consider to be an amazingly wonderful life.