Tiny and quiet as it was, it sheltered full-sized probing dreams of childhood for many of us. For me, the little blue building in the alleyway sandwiched between King’s Office Supply and a bare brick structure next to the Sportsman Bar was where I imagined my art studio would be someday. Someday, I thought, when I came back from traveling and studying painting in France. I imagined I would go to southern France where van Gogh had packed canvases on his back, wet from oils and flaming from the Mediterranean sun, walking, painting, never knowing what would become of his work. He walked that land I dreamed of seeing. He walked and painted without much to sustain him, neither food nor much hope, in this magical place where cypress trees grew and absinthe flowed and the movement of natural light was noticed and placed on stretched canvases. That was my plan, that was my youthful wish, to see this faraway land and this “dream,” this plan, somehow, included the curious little building in the alley. Well, not much of that unfolded. I did study painting in Nice, France, the summer between my junior and senior year at LSU and I did see Van Gogh’s cypress trees from a window on a train to Florence, but I never made the little blue building my studio. I suspect many never did what was imagined with the soon to be gone building either.
Dreams from youth, I still think of them sometimes, usually when seasons change, like now when the timidity of spring bursts into maturity, when there is high-volume buzz and penetrating color and more youthful dreams to fill the enchanting days of summer. I attended the CHS graduation this year and watched eighty-four young people, including my nephew, Zac Farris, walk down the aisles of St. Peter’s holding the honor of being the 100th graduating class from the original school, St Peter’s College. In 1922, there were only seven young men to receive diplomas from the newly formed school, now there are many more and many girls. This piece of time, this tiny stretch, this deep pocket of thoughts right after high school is where dreams burst with possibilities, it is where “spring” turns to “summer,” it is where life moves on.
My vantage point has become abruptly different now than when I walked down the aisle of St. Peter’s Church in 1972. I reflect and know that most of the dreams I carried with me then were sparked from the people and places of this small town. Many are no longer here, both people and places, for time inevitably takes things away physically, and it is our hearts that we must rely on to keep them protected and remembered. I have written about it before and I mention it again, for I cannot think of my creative journey , my youthful aspirations, without thinking of The Cottage, an edifice of lofty dreams and creative travels with Mrs. Renoudet, the sweet lady who answered all of my questions about making art and the Halls of Carmel, where Mrs. Swatloski encouraged my journey into the arts and Sister Ann Carmel taught me how. These are my specific people and places I write about but they can be interchanged by anyone reading this. The feelings are the same, the places we went in youth carry us to now. The weave of the small town fabric is tight and bounding; it is made up of the teachers that saw things in us, the coaches that pushed, the small businesses that called us by our first names and knew our parents and the security of home. Small towns are rich with dream starters, they give our youth a secure launching pad and the stimulation and encouragement to follow their visions. They nurture dreams that may only find you on a train to Florence looking out of the window but then, through time, find you at a keyboard sharing the memories.
Congratulations to the graduates. I hope all of us here have given you a fertile ground to dream, the skills to carry them through and an honorable reason to remember this unique place called home … you’ve “got the whole world in your hands.”
PAM SHENSKY is a wife and mom to five.