Big magic is what author Elizabeth Gilbert calls it. I like that, and I do feel as if extracting memories from within and making sense of them on paper is magic. And so I continue my magic tricks day by day, whether there’s an audience out there in the dark or not.
In the memoir I am writing, When the Lights Go Out at 10:16, I recently added a brand new chapter. It’s called simply, “Welcome to Phenix.” It begins:
There used to be a sign as you entered town that read in a big bold font, “Welcome to Phenix, Virginia: A Nice Place to Live.” When I was in high school, this sign hung above my headboard in my bedroom until one night, around 3 a.m., it came crashing down on me as I slept.
I wrote about this once before, how I felt something big was missing from the original version of the story I began all those years ago in July 2003. And what I came to realize was that “big thing” was Phenix. I needed to flesh it out more than a simple passing mention. After all, the origins of the story and our childhood begin in this small town.
My neighbor, Sara Gilliam, who owned Polly the dog that I wrote about in a previous post, once wrote a condensed history of Phenix. I summarized this and included it in the new chapter.
If you’d like to read the new chapter, click here.
In reading Mrs. Gilliam’s short history of Phenix, I learned some interesting tidbits about the town where I was raised. I wasn’t surprised that it began as a hog lot. I was surprised that it was once considered a place of opportunity because of the coming railroad, and that traveling medicine shows and musicians came to town by rail. I’m sure there are similar histories and fates of towns erected because of a booming rail industry. Pamplin, and its abandoned brick buildings, comes to mind.
There are some places I had long forgotten that sprang to memory: the feed tower that once loomed next to the ballfield us kids used to climb. Other places I’ll never forget, like the livestock market I used to frequent with my dad despite us not owning any farm animals. Even with that memory, a memory that returned as I walked the dirt path inside my mind came this:
The livestock market was also a place of potential peril we were advised as we stood next to the hog pin one Saturday morning before an auction was to take place.
“They’ll bite off your toes,” Robbie’s mom Joanne told us. “Especially the babies.”
We all stepped back a few inches, continuing to peer over the rounded red gate of the pin, our toes curled under the balls of our feet tucked in our shoes.
I smiled thinking about that moment—an old memory new again.
I’ll continue to revise this new chapter, scratching out lines, adding new lines in. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the addition.
Thanks for reading.