Guest Blog Post, B.J. Hollars: On “Breconshire Drive”

In the photo, Jeff and I are busy fighting the bad guys, even if I don’t quite know who they are.  This is 1989 or so, in my backyard on Breconshire Drive. It’s fall (note the naked trees in the background), and while the photo appears to depict me as a little grown-up (complete with backpack flung confidently over my shoulder), one oft-overlooked detail in the photo immediately returns me to child form.

It’s the shoes—me trapped in my Velcro, while Jeff’s in laces. This, of course, was humiliating for me, and while I quickly rectified the problem by practicing bunny ears on every pair of shoes in the house, this picture forever served as proof of the difference between us: he who could double-knot while I couldn’t manage a single; he who could catch the bad guys while I didn’t know what a bad guy was.

The outtakes from “Breconshire Drive” are far longer than the essay itself. For instance, the final draft makes no mention of our days spent gathering crawdads in empty bread bags down by the creek. Nor does it detail the rash of burglaries that overtook our neighborhood one summer, how our golf-club-wielding fathers were not all-powerful after all. Instead, what remains is an essay on a friendship boiled back to basics, a single memory serving as the touchstone for other memories that might emerge. On its own, my nostalgia-induced work on a walk shared between friends hardly deserves the space it was graciously given. But it’s my hope that my essay on “a walk shared between friends” is actually an essay about a walk shared between friends who are soon to realize the troubling truth of mortality—that even at the age of 7, our walks were coming to a close, that my strides were too short to meet Jeff in his new home in Michigan.

Let me be clear: I don’t expect readers to feel sorry for the 7-year-old version of me. After all, losing a best friend is what being 7 is all about. Jeff and I had watched enough crawdads die in our bread bags to know that even people with good intentions sometimes hurt things that didn’t deserve it.

Sure, I was devastated, but mostly because the world seemed suddenly disinterested in adjusting its plans on my behalf. I could slam my bedroom door as much as I wanted, but it wouldn’t keep Jeff’s family’s U-Haul from backing into his drive. And even after he left, I learned that I couldn’t ride my bike back and forth along his stretch of sidewalk long enough to remove the “Sold” sign from his front yard. In short, I was shocked less about Jeff’s leaving than the world’s failure to retract its cruel fate. I was 7, and while I felt I’d previously proven myself as an all-powerful being (after all, no one else in my school had won back-to-back blue ribbons in the plant show), the world seemed just as unimpressed by my powers as it had our golf club wielding fathers’.

Kill my umbrella tree, I begged to a God I’d never met. Just promise me you’ll blow up Michigan, too.

He didn’t. My umbrella tree died anyway.

Years later, Michigan remains intact, my water can gathers dust, and the most tangible piece of our friendship that remains is the photograph described above, the one of me looking dumb in my Velcro shoes. Though perhaps the worst part isn’t the Velcro, but that I—the Velcro-shoed boy—seemed certain that eventually we’d get those bad guys, even if the bad guys weren’t guys at all, but a place beyond Breconshire Drive.

 

You can read the essay “Breconshire Drive” in Issue 10 of SR.

B.J. Hollars

B.J. Hollars is the author of two books of nonfiction, Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America—the 2012 recipient of the Society of Midland Author’s Award—and Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Tuscaloosa forthcoming from the University of Alabama Press. His short story collection, Sightings, is forthcoming from Break Away Books/Indiana University Press. He has also served as editor for three anthologies: You Must Be This Tall To Ride: Contemporary Writers Take You Inside the Story, Monsters: A Collection of Literary Sightings (Pressgang, 2012), and Blurring the Boundaries: Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction. An assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he lives a simple existence with his wife, son, dog, and their books.

18 thoughts on “Guest Blog Post, B.J. Hollars: On “Breconshire Drive”

  • February 3, 2013 at 4:52 pm
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    It’s amazing how the smallest things can have the greatest impact on us. Something as simple as a friend moving can cause someone to begin to question the world around them. Too often people assume the grand things in life are what affect us the most, which may be true, but this post shows that the “velcro shoes” of a person’s life may just be enough to change perspective.

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  • February 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm
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    I think we all can relate to that first childhood heartbreak, whether it be romantic or platonic. The one that leaps to mind for me is my first grade (and overall first) crush, Ryan. I wrote dumb poems about him, and though I wasn’t confident enough to think I had a chance, let alone the courage to say how I felt, there was still that childish certainty that we’d be together. We drifted apart in second grade, naturally.

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  • February 4, 2013 at 9:13 pm
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    This is a great line: “Jeff and I had watched enough crawdads die in our bread bags to know that even people with good intentions sometimes hurt things that didn’t deserve it.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I, too, had suffered a childhood separation of my best friend (but this time I was the one moving, and nothing could be done to make my parents turn the car around, away from the dusty Arizona highway, the cacti and the desert).

    I love the blog post, and the essay from issue 10.

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  • February 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm
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    “Breconshire Drive,” for me represents more than just an essay, which I truly enjoyed by the way along with Hollars’ blog. It made me reflect and cherish the invaluable time in which young friendship once thrived in my life. Children’s cohesive bonds are vulnerable to decisions not made by them, whether it’s economical, marital, etc. “We don’t stop smashing until the last of those writhing bodies turns to jelly,” the life and death, mortality, has me thinking about the power, one’s control over life, that goes to a child’s mind when he/she toys with inflicting death onto animals such as ants. When I had pulled out the magnify glass on a sunny day, was I just a child playing or was I God for a moment? Thank you Sega and Nintendo with two-player games for letting me share the distractions of my childhood thereon after! Does a parent’s choice to move outweigh a child’s friendship? Hollars makes his antagonist much more ambiguous, not being the parent’s choice; his essay makes me think that if it wasn’t the move, something else would’ve torn the friendship.

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  • February 8, 2013 at 10:06 am
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    This essay is such a beautiful representation of friendship and life in the eye of a 7 year old. For a 7 year old the most important thing in their lives is friendships and learning. I feel like that is something that we as people need to get back too. We always worry about work, or problems in relationships, how close our phone is to us and picking it up as soon as it rings. The beauty of this piece is that B.J. Hollars allows his readers to remember and reconnect to their childhood through one of his own memories.

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    • February 10, 2013 at 10:33 pm
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      Great thought Chelsea. Sometimes it really would be great to just slow down for a bit and appreciate the small things the way we did when we were young. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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  • February 8, 2013 at 10:36 am
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    This story brings back so many childhood memories. The world just keeps moving on for all of us, it seems. I have reconnected (thank you internet!) with some of the people I shared those years with, and we have an amazing time reminding each other of our trials and adventures. They look so different through the adult eye, so precious now.

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  • February 9, 2013 at 5:16 pm
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    I remember the first time I moved out of one childhood neighbourhood and into a new one. A few years later, I was on my own and tried to go back to where I grew up. There is definite truth in the saying, “You can never go home again.” Once that childhood home is left behind, or that friend moves on, there’s just no going back and making it right again. In some ways it’s depressing. But in other ways it’s a nice reminder of how far we’ve come.

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  • February 10, 2013 at 10:45 pm
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    “Kill my umbrella tree, I begged to a God I’d never met. Just promise me you’ll blow up Michigan, too.

    He didn’t. My umbrella tree died anyway.”

    This is such a beautiful, heartbreaking thought – and so truthful. Even beyond childhood, I sometimes find the world’s ambivalence jarring. It also creates dear, fleeting moments though. Thanks for sharing this and your lovely “Breconshire Drive” with us.

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  • February 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm
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    I think we spend our lives out searching for those feelings of innocence and freedom. Thank you for sharing. I especially enjoyed the photo of two boys being boys.

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    • February 12, 2013 at 8:27 pm
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      I agree Gloria. And sometimes in searching for our feelings of innocence we need look no further than our memories. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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  • February 20, 2013 at 3:03 pm
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    Amazing piece. Thank you for sharing. It is an amazing thing to learn that things aren’t all powerful and that no matter what we do sometimes things still won’t change. This had a lot of heart to it, very touching.

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