Sikeston, the small town in southeast Missouri where I lived as a boy, has only just begun the process of grappling with the devastation wrought by last week’s ice storm. My brother, who spent most of the week helping to maintain order in a community that was cast into darkness by an area-wide power failure, has been checking in with me at regular intervals, telling me stories that would be hard to believe were it not for the news photos that I saw on the Web all week.
The good news–the best news–is that power was restored on Saturday afternoon to the house where I grew up, and my mother returned there shortly thereafter. My brother turned the heat on and restocked her refrigerator. That was the easy part. It will be a lot harder figuring out what to do with whatever is left of the trees in her yard after the ice has melted.
I fear in particular for the survival of the tree that I described on the last page of the memoir that I wrote in 1991 about growing up in Sikeston:
In the front yard of 713 Hickory Drive is a maple tree that casts a long, cool shadow on summer days. Once it was a slender sapling, held up by wires that led to wooden stakes driven deep in the earth, and I wondered if it would ever grow tall enough for me to climb. It is tall enough now. My niece will soon climb it, and my own unborn children, God willing, will someday climb it too. But for me it will always be the young sapling that stands in front of the house that is my home, in the town that is my home town, in the part of the country where I was born and to which I will always return, frequently and gladly, inevitably and eternally.
Eighteen years have passed since I wrote those words. My niece is in college now, I have no children, and I’ve no idea what will be left of our poor maple tree by the time I manage to get home to Sikeston again. I’m old enough now to have learned that precious few things in life are inevitable, much less eternal. But the house that I wrote about in City Limits is still my home, just as Sikeston is still my home town, and if there’s one thing that’s sure as the turning of the earth, it’s that I’ll be going back there for a visit before too long.
Like the song says, there’s no place like home–even when the weather turns bad.