Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mythic Places

I recently reconnected with a high school friend on Facebook. She told me that a few years ago, she and her husband had moved to Benton, Kentucky.

So you're thinking, that is just too (yawn) interesting. Please tell me more.  

Or not. 

But here's the thing.

She might as well have told me she had moved to Never Never Land. Or Camelot. Or Flatland. Or Tatooine. Or Oz. 

In my mind, Benton, Kentucky isn't the sort of place that a real person can move to. It doesn't exist in the same universe as say, Chicago, London, and Yellowstone National Park.

When I was growing up, my dad usually took his vacation to paint the house or work on cars. Boring, responsible stuff. But two or three times we took a mythic journey in the green Oldsmobile to visit my brother's family in Benton.

Happy memories. Eating watermelon with my nephews and niece down in the creekbed, so we wouldn't get hopelessly messy. (We did anyway.) Visiting a crazy, colorful, and wonderful assortment of aunts and uncles. Splashing in a washtub outdoors.  Picking blackberries. Eating catfish at the Pelican in the Land Between the Lakes. Riding a horse. Lazy summer days and sparkling nights with singing crickets and shooting stars. Shopping in Padukah. Aunt Wid's best-ever bean soup and Aunt Luna’s pies with golden curls of meringue. (Even the names are crazy and colorful.)

And through the years there would be other Benton memories, not all happy. Funerals for many loved ones who died. The day my boyfriend found my college class ring in Kentucky Lake after it had slipped off my finger. Making my wedding dress on the sewing machine from hell, while I stayed with my dad in Benton for a few months. A baby shower my sister-in-law gave for me, where people I didn't even know knit booties and brought gifts. And for funerals, they came with pies and cakes and sandwiches. A neighborly place, Benton.

Dad with Cousin William's tractor, in Benton

Benton memories are few and far between, but they are all special, all infused with an other-worldliness, with great sorrow or great joy. Whenever I went to Benton, I left this world behind. 

I suspect that we all have mythic places in our lives. Places that loom large in our imaginations. Places we can never quite explain to "outsiders." Sometimes we long to return, as Adam must have longed to return to Eden, but the entrance is barred. The house has been sold. The people have died. The landscape has forever changed. 

Most places we've visited, most places we've lived, are stored in our minds, but mythic places are stored in our hearts. We can visit them only in dreams and memories. And yet, no bulldozer or tornado--not even the slow but certain ravages of entropy--can destroy them. 

In mythic places, the dead still walk and talk in all their endearing quirkiness. What we felt is more important than the facts. What we remember matters more than what really happened.

At Dad's house in Benton,
my brother and sis-in-law with my first baby

And though we can never really return to a mythic place, maybe we don't need to. We carry it with us always--it becomes a part of who we are. And likewise, we become a part of the place, a part of the story.

As King Arthur sings to a boy at the final curtain of Lerner and Lowe's Camelot:

     Don't let it be forgot
     That once there was a spot
     For one brief shining moment
     that was known as Camelot.

We remember, and we share the stories. That is how mythic places live on.


  1. As one who has moved several times, I can especially relate. I love your take on yesteryear and mythic-like places.

    1. Janice, I kind of envy people who grow up in a small town and stay there for their whole lives. What a sense of community they must have! But I keep moving on from place to place, gathering memories, making amazing friends, until I finally make it home.

  2. You got me all glassy-eyed! My hometown has not changed much. Just enough to spot the differences when I go back- a new set of lamp-posts. A DO NOT ENTER sign where I used to play. A fixed sidewalk where I once swore I'd never step on a crack for fear of breaking my mama's back.

    But, the house I grew up in is gone. The shell still sits on the same plot of land, but I know the inside is gutted and changed. I was once invited over by the lady who bought it. She was excited and wanted to show me all of the wonderful things she'd done to improve the 100+ year old house. I declined. I didn't want my memories marred. There are times when I sit, eyes closed, and walk through that house. I remember it from a little closer to the ground, peering up through baby gates or crawling on the floor. In the door and up the stairs to dad's den that always smelled of sawdust and drying glue. Through the living room and into the kitchen that my mom suddenly one day decided needed to be bright, sunny yellow. Into the back yard with plenty of mud to play in and trees to shade.

    That house is my mythic place, my retreat. I'm glad to hear you have one, too. =)

    1. Joiful, you've got me glassy-eyed too! You should cut and paste your comment into a Word file and write some more about your mythic place--sometime when you're in the mood. A family friend bought my parent's house, and I visited their family a few times. But it was so creepy to see the changes they had made. With my rational mind, I knew it was their house, and they could do as they liked. But with my heart, it felt like they were fracturing my childhood. How dare they!

  3. You've got me really thinking. . .

    1. Thanks. I'm glad you stopped by my blog today. :-)

  4. Patty, thank you for this beautiful essay. I just printed it out to share with my mom. She has dementia, and after one year of living in a retirement community, we need to sell the house she lived in for 40-plus years. This is so hard for her. She keeps saying she wants to move back to the small town where she grew up and was married, but of course, it is not the same there now, and there are few family members left. I'm hoping this essay will help me help her find some closure, and find comfort in that mythic place in her heart that never changes.

    1. Thank you, Kathy. I truly feel for your mom. How awful to lose your home of forty years and at the same time be losing even the memories, the connective tissue of your life. May the God of all comfort giver her peace and a new sense of community.

  5. Patty, as always I loved the post. I remember summers catching fireflies & apple trees, black - eyed susans & daisy chains. Ice skating and a kind woman down the road who was a friend. Walking up the hill w/cousins, lying in the grass and staring at the sky. Company and good times along w/some sad ones. thanks for the post.

    1. Thanks, Caroline. Those memories are priceless. It's amazing what we remember and what we forget. I love fireflies and black-eyed susans!