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As a child, I thought life would go on forever. The arrival, gradual
climax, and passing of each season went so slowly that the view from our
living room armchair of a grove of maples never appeared to change. The
vista through the elms that arched over the avenue leading downtown
before we turned off toward church each week seemed to meet at an
"unvanishing" point—the county courthouse clock's hands at 8. The
cookie jar remained ever full no matter how many homemade peanut butter
and oatmeal cookies I dunked in milk. On Sunday afternoons, we'd travel
familiar country roads or cross-town, tree-lined streets to visit
grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. The sting of a coal shovel
hitting a sidewalk crack buried in thick wet snow would sometimes jolt
me awake. But then a last glimpse of our living room when I'd ascend the
stairs and reach with my right hand for the smooth maple banister would
restore order again.
After 9 p.m., the street corner traffic light outside my window flashed
red for the side street and pulsed yellow for the main road. The
blinking red and yellow blended on my bedroom's mustard-colored wall
above the glass-topped desk and against the shut closet door. The
heartbeat rhythm of its orange glow soothed me as I waited for sleep,
then drifted off. In summer, through the window screen, I could hear
turning tires on wet streets mixed with rain in Chinese elms. Or the
radios of cars approaching, pausing at the intersection, then receding
would sometimes play songs in synch with the traffic light's steady,
clicking beat. Once in a while, a bird would stir above the crickets'
chirring. Each night, trains would wail their horns at crossings, but
the clanking of their freight and coal cars on the rails were muffled by
distance. The theme songs, laugh tracks, and dialogue of sitcoms and
Westerns broadcast too late for me to watch would echo off the
stairwell's walls into the upstairs hallway then into my room: "Have
Gun, Will Travel...Wire Paladin, San Francisco."
Now, this almost endless string of commuter traffic...
stoplight in rain
a car radio plays
"Let It Be"