Yesterday, I had a chance to take our five year old on a tour of my old stomping grounds. I felt like it was a great time to really show him around, since he’s old enough to remember where we go and what he sees; we’re still struggling with having him remember what we say, but that’s a topic for another blog post. When you live in a small town, build a home only 17 minutes away from the house you grew up in, and buy your father’s small business, you tend to get tangled in those roots that you’ve been putting down since you were born.
The problem with yesterday’s tour, though, was that memory lane is a lot more overgrown and decrepit than it used to be. I was downright depressed when we were done, but I didn’t want him to know that I was on the verge of tears, so I sounded like one of those overzealous Washington, DC, tour guides that you can’t wait to ditch at the next monument.
First up was the house my dad was raised in, along with his six siblings. My grandparents haven’t lived there for decades, and the house isn’t exactly on a route I travel often. It doesn’t look like the version I’ve romanticized in my head. The front porch is different, and of course my grandfather’s truck isn’t parked beside the barn. The trees are older and more tired looking. I guess I had expected it to look exactly as it did when I visited my grandparents and hunted for Easter eggs and played with all of the cousins outside. I vividly remember petting the cows and calves in that barn, picking apples along the winding dirt road, and riding all over the fields on the three-wheeler with my aunt. And there it was: just an older farmhouse. I told our son all of the memories I could in the three minutes it took to drive past, trying to make my memory come alive for him.
Then, I drove past the famous sled-riding hill. All of the kids from my neighborhood and the two adjoining ones slid down that hill, and we thought it was the best way to spend those freezing snow days. The trip up took the breath right out of us, as did the trip back down on our inflatable tubes. The hill, thankfully, looks the same. I guess a weed-covered hill doesn’t change all that much in 25 years. It was nice to hear his breathy, “Wow!” when he saw just how big it really is.
Feeling a little rejuvenated by the sameness of the hill, I drove past the old corner store. We used to buy ice cream there, on the way to the community center for bowling after a hard day in elementary school. I also remember going in with a fistful of cash and purchasing milk for my mom, from one of my classmates’ moms. She was always so nice and smiled when she asked how I was. Now, there is a display in the front window for clothing. The display was very nice. But, it’s just not the same.
The real shock came when we drove past the store to my old elementary school. Again, not exactly on my daily travels, the school is a place I haven’t seen for years. Half of it is gone. My third grade and second grade and sixth grade and fourth grade classrooms were torn down years ago. The tennis court that hosted daily kickball games and was the site of my very first homerun (second girl in my class to achieve that feat) have been removed and there are weeds growing in its place. The playground equipment that served as home to secrets and dares also has been removed. The remaining portion of the school is a personal care facility. So, I was pointing and describing things to my son, hoping that he could picture the images of my childhood as vividly as I could: “Over there is where I won the three-legged race with my friend. Right here is where we used to line up to go in after recess. That’s where we used to play hopscotch. I lost a tooth right here.” He nodded and looked where I was pointing, but the magic that I felt was making no impression on him. Through his eyes, it must look like an overgrown field and a boring brick building.
One more turn, and we were at the site of the old community swimming pool. The place where I received most of my childhood torture and harassment – it was not easy being a chubby girl trying to swim with all of the older boys from the surrounding neighborhoods – is now another overgrown empty lot. After financial and management and a host of other issues, it, too, has gone by the wayside. I admit, I glossed over that part of the childhood memories and told him that I used to swim with friends there.
Another turn, and we were at the community park and ball fields. He already has been at the park several times, but this time I made sure he knew that the park is where I had school picnics and attended friends’ birthday parties and walked with friends during summers off from school and had some of the best fun of my young life. I showed him the softball and baseball fields and proudly told him that I was a member of the first softball team in our little village. That first year, we practiced and actually had matching team shirts and a couple of scrimmages by the end of the season. By the next year, my dad sponsored one team and another local dad who owned a business sponsored the other team, and we had real uniforms and helmets and coaches and rivalries. More fields were built, more games were scheduled, and more girls joined. I was feeling pretty special when the voice from the backseat asked if we had Sour Patch Kids at the concession stands. Way to bring your mother back to present reality, kiddo. I am happy to report that we did. And, it made me feel great to see kids on the new, shiny, colorful park equipment and cars parked at all of the ball fields. Some things about childhood should improve with age, and I’m so glad it’s the park and ball field; it seems to be those places of play that can hold a community together the longest.
Finally, we headed toward my parents’ house, down the long tree-lined street that housed of so many of my classmates, teammates, teachers, and friends. I told him that my friends and I spent hours walking along those streets, talking, and heading to the ball games of their older brothers and sometimes to see the boys on whom we had crushes play baseball. “What’s a crush, Mommy?” “When you really like somebody and think you might want to swing beside them.” Dear God, please keep him this young and innocent forever. Again, the houses are looking older, the trees are growing taller, and the community members are walking more slowly. I showed him the houses of good friends as well as those that handed out the best candy for trick-or-treaters. By that time, he was giving me polite nods.
A lot of my childhood places are gone or heading in that direction. To make matters worse, when we go on the tour of my junior and senior high school years, I’m not going to have much to show him because my senior high school has been torn down, the football field has been torn down, and the Dunkin’ Donuts has been torn down and rebuilt facing a different direction. (Yes, DD had that much of an impact on my teen years.) I suppose that things had to change after all of that time passed, and it’s good that my small town is trying to rebuild and thrive as much as possible.
It’s just hard to see those physical places that meant so much exist now in such a completely different state. I guess it’s just one of those things about getting older: not much stays the same. What the Hell?