THOMAS WOLFE CLASSICALLY REMINDS US THAT WE CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN. He’s right, of course, specially in the sense that time changes everything. You can go to the place, but it, like you has changed. Nobody and nothing escapes the ravages of time.
Even though I was thoroughly aware of this, I brought up Google Earth this afternoon and looked up my old childhood neighborhood. I did this several years ago and was shocked to see how the devastation of a lifetime has changed what was - that same lifetime ago - an almost idyllic experience. Today’s “trip down Memory Lane” was much the same with one difference: Just about every house in my old immediate neighborhood was gone and there were trees randomly spaced and neatly groomed grass. It was a park-like setting with only the occasional piece of ancient sidewalk showing through to belie a former civilization.
Rather than shutting down the computer I wadded on through the craggy sloughs of lost youth and the old streets that show signs of giving up to the inevitably encroaching verge.
The oak tree was there. The one I retreated to for dreaming. I had a few boards in the crown. Hardly a real platform, but sufficient for me to hide and see without being seen. It seems twice the tree now than it was then. I wished for it to be alone in a remote field where it was likely never to be cut down. But it has existed for a hundred years or more on that corner. If the community was still “alive” it surely would have been removed in the name of progress and street widening. I remember listening to freight trains trying to gain purchase on the rails in the Standard Oil Refinery two blocks away and thinking how I’d like to be on it going to my future. I always wanted to be somewhere else. I probably climbed down and rode my bicycle somewhere else - free as a bird. It was a wonderful life.
In Street View, I drove down the street where I lived passed empty lots where everyone lived. I drove to the “T:” intersection of Weller Ave. and Scenic Highway, which then was the center of what was known as Dixie, the years really caught up with me. Nothing was left of the thriving center where my father’s barber shop lived along with a hotel, two saloons, a variety store, hardware store and drug store on the west side
On the South East corner was the kingdom of Mr, Charlie Hebert (A-Bear). A huge (as I remember it) sign toward above the corner saloon. A large letter A and a brown bear constituted his “logo”. Next door was a large grocery store and next to that was a hardware store and next to that was a dry goods store. they were all connected so that you could walk inside from one to the other. Excepting the saloon, of course. Decades before anyone conceived of a Mall, we had one in Dixie. Not a single brick or board remains.
Suddenly a wave of sadness washed over me. I realized that I had stirred up a little leftover grief for a memorable childhood. Then I wondered if my sadness was about the childhood past or that it probably could not exist today.