What Remains

January 8th, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:



When I noticed the downhill-sloping sidewalk in front of my grandparents’ former house, I remembered being 8-years-old, holding onto Grandpa’s hand, and skipping beside him on the way to the neighborhood grocery store.

We each have latent memories, things that we forget about until we return to the scene of that memory. In this particular case, the scene was Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

This past November, Dave and I met my mom in Northwest Arkansas and we drove around the Fayetteville and Siloam Springs area together, visiting spots familiar to Mom and me. My grandparents had been native Kansans, but during my childhood they lived in Arkansas.

After nearly four decades away, I expected that my grandparents’ old house might be in disrepair, or maybe gone, but it was in fine shape and even still painted blue-gray. A girl, about 11-years-old, raked leaves in the front yard. She told me that her family had just moved in.

While we were at this house in Siloam Springs, although we were only on the outside of it, I felt the presence of my grandparents so much here. And I wondered, how much of yourself stays behind when you leave a house? Not only did it feel as if my grandparents’ spirits were here, it seemed as if they were nudging me toward memories.

Memory is something of a correspondence course. What we remember from childhood is far away from us in time and often in place. Until we get that time machine fixed, we can’t return to a particular time, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can revisit places we once knew well.

It was thrilling for me to suddenly recall that scene of walking with Grandpa that block-and-a-half to the store for a quart of milk or maybe a bag of potatoes. A new/old memory. The store was closer than the long trek that it had seemed when I was a little hoodlum.

An ongoing sadness in my life is that I didn’t get to experience my maternal grandparents during my adult years. Grandpa died when I was 16 and Grandma passed away when I was 18.

I’m always searching, it seems, for these people who loved me, for the grandfather who laughed at my antics, who scooped me up and carried me around. I’m still looking for my grandmother who sewed dresses for me and sent hand-written letters.

So I keep trying to piece together the stories of their lives. I question my mom and other relatives about them. No matter what I learn, the picture is incomplete. And it always will be.

Driving around, I was surprised that so much of what I remembered from those trips to Arkansas in the ‘60s and ‘70s was still there, the grid of my childhood still intact.

It was fun to be able to show these places to Dave. And I felt fortunate to be able to visit them with my mom. With Mom beside me it felt like a treasure hunt, trying to find what was left of those long-ago settings.

Of the three places my grandparents had lived when I was growing up, this two-story house in Siloam Springs was my favorite. It was a spacious house, and with four bedrooms upstairs I had my own room when we visited.

When I caught sight of the small part of the house that jutted out on the south side, I remembered sitting on an oval rug in that room to watch Art Fleming on “Jeopardy” on an ancient (even then) black-and-white television set.

During that time, my uncle and aunt lived just up the alley. When they adopted four kids, my brother and I had instant cousins to play with. In my grandparents’ backyard in the evenings, the adults would sit in lawn chairs and talk while we kids turned cartwheels in the grass until the moon and stars lit the night.

Driving through the alley adjacent to their house, foliage lined the fence just as it once had, and I wondered if any of those plants were leftovers from my grandma’s flower garden.

When we return to a place of our youth, we look for what remains.

Memories somersaulted through my mind. Seeing that house again was a joy. Although my grandparents departed years ago, in a way they were still there.

Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh


columns, life on the ground, nostalgia, out of state, traveling

  1. Ralph Gillispie
    January 8th, 2013 at 13:29 | #1

    Thank you for these “Memories somersaulted..”.

  2. January 8th, 2013 at 13:37 | #2

    🙂 Thanks, Ralph!

  3. January 8th, 2013 at 13:41 | #3

    So poignant and beautiful, Cheryl. Thank you.

  4. Roger
    January 8th, 2013 at 13:52 | #4

    I do the same thing when I visit a place from my childhood.

  5. January 8th, 2013 at 14:06 | #5


  6. January 8th, 2013 at 14:36 | #6

    I get the same feelings about my grandparents that you describe when doing family/genealogy research.
    Viewing a census record from 1910 or 1920 or 1930 evokes these feelings especially if the residence is still standing.
    Thanks for writing.

  7. J.P.
    January 9th, 2013 at 16:22 | #7

    Have painted a window frame and a door in this grey blue colour, the name on the can says ocean blue.
    Danish fishermen paint theire ships in allmost the same colours, my favorite!

  8. Chuck Buerki
    January 10th, 2013 at 12:23 | #8

    Very eloquent. Chuck

  9. Wendy Devilbiss
    January 16th, 2013 at 22:21 | #9

    This one’s a beauty, and helps me see the meaning in life–thank you!

  10. January 17th, 2013 at 08:36 | #10

    Thank you so much, Kelley, Roger, Tracy, Milt, J.P., Chuck, and Wendy!

  11. Katy
    January 30th, 2013 at 00:14 | #11

    I visited Emporia for the first time in years two weeks ago. My great-grandparents lived there and we would take family roadtrips from St. Louis to visit them twice a year when I was little. I drove all over town experiencing those same somersaulting memories you described. It was so special to see places like their little yellow house and the Village School playground we used to play on. However, I was sad to see that Coburn’s was gone, I was looking forward to a coffee and sitting in Grandpa’s booth. So many great memories rooted in good ol’ Emporia 🙂