I Am There: Ashland Avenue

In honor of my recent visit to my hometown, and the five year anniversary of my book and arrival to Estonia, I am allowing the Kindle app version of my book I Am There: Armenia to be downloaded for FREE from July 16 - 18, 2017. Click HERE for your free download. 

BEFORE YOU DO THAT....

Read below for a TEASER from the final chapter of my book, and recent journey to my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri. I call it my enhanced, collector's PICTURE BOOK edition. 

Excerpt from I am There: Armenia by Olivia Puccini

Chapter Twenty-Three: Ashland Avenue

As a teenager, I hated running. Every year I would dread the day when my school's gym teacher would time us as we ran the mile. I was anxious, standing at the starting line, just waiting for the coach to blow her whistle as she stared down at her stopwatch.

I was in junior high, and we were forced to sport unflattering gym uniforms. Slender girls would prance by in their bright red shorts and blue t-shirts like they were born to run. I would try to drag myself and the excess 25 pounds I carried in my belly and thighs around the track. Run, then walk. Run again and witness the tiny, popular girl speed by, then continue walking with a spirit of defeat. I dreaded being one of the last people to cross the finish line. There was no warm reception or cheers, just a group of young girls chatting with each other and stopping long enough to toss a questioning glance my way, "What took you so long?"

July 2017: Standing in front of the school that gave me the roughest years of my young life--George Bode Middle School.

July 2017: Standing in front of the school that gave me the roughest years of my young life--George Bode Middle School.

My freshman year of high school only escalated the pressure. The halls seemed filled with handsome football players and cheerleaders in mini-skirts. In my fourteen-year-old mind, it didn't seem fair. I was motivated to change. At first, I could only run two or three blocks. Then I'd stop, walk and start over. Every day, I would run a bit further. My unquenchable desire to achieve eventually took over and within a few months, I was running four miles every day.

This is the high school my father, my two aunts, my sister and I graduated from: Central High School. 

This is the high school my father, my two aunts, my sister and I graduated from: Central High School. 

I grew up in Saint Joseph, Missouri--a mid-size, mid-western city. This was the hometown of the outlaw Jesse James and the Pony Express, America's first mail system. My home was a three-story Victorian house sitting where Felix Street crested on its way downtown. My family had moved to this quiet, old neighborhood when I was only four years old to escape the crime-riddled section of Kansas City where I was born.

The home I grew up in: 2527 Felix. It looks the same except we did not have the flags, wreath or hand rail on steps.

The home I grew up in: 2527 Felix. It looks the same except we did not have the flags, wreath or hand rail on steps.

My four-mile run was the same every day. I would run down Felix Street to Noyes Boulevard. Noyes was a mile-long hill that emptied onto beautiful Ashland Avenue.

Ashland was lined with old, gingerbread-like homes. Its mature trees would cast shadows over bicycles, cars and passersby. Unrelenting roots of maple and oak unseated concrete slabs of sidewalk and curb, creating a mystical, inimitable charm.

I would run past Ashland's graveyard. Its border was traced by a black, wrought iron fence, and a tall brick archway stood at the entryway. In this graveyard were the founders of the city and prominent families that once resided on Ashland Avenue.

July 2017- Walking towards Ashland Avenue's Cemetery / Graveyard in St. Joseph, Missouri- USA

July 2017- Walking towards Ashland Avenue's Cemetery / Graveyard in St. Joseph, Missouri- USA

My feet graced Ashland's paths in the hot, humid Missouri summers. I pounded the pavement and kicked away leaves in the crisp fall. My lungs burned as I inhaled the cold winter air and carefully avoided patches of ice. I would jump over puddles pooling on the uneven sidewalk during the Spring. I experienced Ashland Avenue during every stage of the year. Ashland Avenue experienced its residents in every stage of life. 

I have a connection to this road. Ashland was there for me during those painful years of growing. She supported my steps of healing as I overcame physical difficulties that resulted from anorexia that defined my first years of high school. She was there for me as I learned to lean on my family, friends, and my faith. I enjoyed her unchanging soul that never wavered in her faithfulness. As I continue to run down the path of my life, I can look back and imagine the footprints I left there, and know that it is proud of the canvas on which my story has been painted.