Stepping back in time
I lived in a lot of places as a child—the nature of my dad’s work required that we move around, so we had many homes. Three times we ventured across country, segments of first, second, and third grade were set in a small town in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, the hamlet called Woodstock. After a gap of nearly fifty years, and many, many miles, I put my adult shoes into the shadows of the footsteps of my childhood.
At that time, Woodstock was a very small town, set on a village green, untouched by the infamous music festival. It was a summer-stock town and an artist colony. Actors, artists and musicians were part of the culture. Merchant shops formed a circle around the green, including the barber who, over cries of “Mom, girls don’t get their hair cut at the barber,” cut my hair; a pizza place where they actually tossed the pizza and gave us chunks of dough that turned grey with our efforts to toss our own crusts; an ice cream place called Dots served the most amazingly rich and drippy chocolate dipped cones; an old fashioned hardware store had everything from A to Z — it’s the place where the stilts and snow saucers came from; the library had its own green and held an annual fair, that’s the place where I purchased my “dress-up” outfit. Some are gone and some remain—all are changed.
Recently, I revisited this place. The place where I learned to read, the place I spent endless hours in the pool. I drove the streets attempting to jog my memory and to retrace the paths of long walks with my mother. I re-experienced thunderstorms that inspired the lore of Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle. And, with a little luck and guidance, found the houses where we lived so many years ago. So much was different, yet so much the same.
A flood of wonderful memories washed over me as I gazed at the driveway of the house where I learned to balance on a two wheeler, coasting down the driveway on a borrowed bike that was impossible to really ride as it featured only one pedal; and rounded the corner where I had my epic bicycle crash (dental work required — my own bike this time). I was reminded of the afternoon game of Whiffle Ball using trash can lids as bases, even more fun because Dad played too.
We road our bikes endlessly looping around the circle of our little neighborhood, clicking and clacking with playing cards in the spokes and crepe paper streamers, decked out for our personal 4th of July parade. This was a time and place of unfenced backyards where kids had run of the neighborhood, the adjacent woods and stream.
Forty-seven years later, the first time I’d returned, I walked the floorboards of old places still intact and wondered where the toll of time had taken others. I saw how the old linoleum of Woodstock Elementary School still shone like glass and how the floor of the Bearsville Post Office is worn and dulled as a testament to the treads of time. I was reminded of the magic of fireflies and of the un-catchable minnows that evaded the best efforts of safety pins and string. Snippets of remembered songs, playmates, teachers, neighborhood kids, dogs, and the taste of those special ice cream cones filled my heart with soft nostalgia.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to visit with a former neighbor, she was a “mom”, a “grown up”, when I was a child, in my eyes, she was already old when we lived there — it is amazing and wonderful to me that she still lives there. In the course of a very short visit she shared so much about her happy memories of our families and the good times we had together.
As I journeyed back to my current home and turned these experiences over in my mind, I realized that I’ve always loved this place and always will, no matter what happens to the buildings, the neighborhood and the city. In my mind they remain intact.
These places we call home provide the framework for life. They allow us to make the connections to the people we love, provide a backdrop for the memories we create, and are the context for the things we learn and our life experiences. Because I carry these memories with me every day, this place will along, with all of the other places I ever live past, present and future, will always be home.