Thursday, October 7, 2010

Feeling a Little Bit Refurbished

Resolution #5 this month is “Follow curiosity more avidly.” I guess this story kind of goes along with that. After I saw The Wilderness Downtown video and it didn’t have footage for my childhood home, I decided I really wanted to see it, to see what’s changed. So, on the way home from apple picking last weekend, Amy and I took a little detour to check it out.

It was a perfect, bright fall day. The colors were so cheerful weather was so mild. We came in through Susquehanna, taking a look at my old church. There was something comforting about seeing the steeple from far away and the building looking just the same. I found myself happy to have once belonged there. (Not many Unitarians would admit to being glad of their old church…)

Then I continued taking Amy on a guided tour of my childhood. We went to Schneider’s Market. You always expect things to keep getting more and more homogenized, that it would’ve been bought by a chain store, but it was just the same as when we’d go there with Grandma Wiedmann to get our once-a-year box of sugary cereal, our once-a-year Spaghetti-Ohs.

When we were little, food sometime was so finite as to kind of have to ration it. This was particularly the case with Kaiser rolls, which dad needed a certain number of for his lunch sandwiches. So every time I’ve gone back to visit as an adult (I think this makes twice) I’ve gotten inordinately excited about being able to buy a whole bag of rolls. Being an adult is pretty awesome sometimes.

We ate a picnic and walked over to look at the Susquehanna river. The bridge we used to walk across was moved, but we watched the river from the walled-off spot where the old bridge used to be.

While we were walking along the cute, cute old-timey Main Street, (there’s a video store where the library used to be), we were passed by a couple of tween girls, arms around each other and walking and chatting so confidently. Amy said “Are they your former self?” I laughed and said “If only I were that self-assured.” But I like that she saw me that way.

The drive from town (listening to “We Used to Wait,” of course.) is five miles. We took Front Street, the route that my brother and sister and I used to like, probably because you could catch glimpses of the river and train tracks. We passed the place where my sister fell out of the car, the babysitter-with-a-pervy-boyfriend’s house, the Vacation Bible School where we went in summer until my mom decided it was too anti-Catholic, Brushville pond which is now a field.

We parked at the little cemetery up the hill from the old house and walked down the narrow road. The air felt like finally-enough space, warm and fallish, with a tiny hint of future snow. I felt free. I felt like I wanted to be coming home on the school bus. It wasn’t a feeling of nostalgia, really, more like a reunion.

We decided to try walking in the woods for a bit, to see how much it had changed—indeed part of them had been mowed into an extension of someone’s backyard. My mom’s old admonishments not to get shot while trespassing (or any other time, for that matter) sprung to mind. The part of the woods that my siblings and I called “The Peaceful Pines” still looked the same. On the other side of them, I was so delighted to find the little pond we used to play by, still smelling froggy and perfect. Still backgrounded by the same serenity-inducing hill of trees.

And the view. It was just as amazing as ever, a long expanse of rolling hills dotted with fall color. When the Eppingers built a house in our view in the late 80s, my mom was livid. We would all have these long discussions about whether or not you could own a view. Also about whether color is abstract or concrete.

Amy and I realized that if we kept walking towards the view, we were going to end up in people’s backyard, so we made our way back to the road. “I’m up to my ass in asters!” I was heard to exclaim.

I didn’t really approve of the new house that interrupted what used to be unbroken woods across from the old house, but it was so pretty and so covered with hanging baskets of pink flowers that I kind of fell in love with it and asked Amy to buy it for me. The woodsy area, with its little cattail swamp and Tree Climbing Club tree, was almost the same. You never hear stories about someone visiting the old place and finding it so much the same. Or maybe this isn’t too much of a story, more like telling someone about a dream you had.

The sledding hill next to the old house is now covered with young trees. The house itself looks so tidy and perfect, red now instead of white. The old shed in the back that we used to play in was turned into a pretty summer-camp-looking cabin with a yellow-painted railing, festive and fancy like something you might imagine if you were a little kid playing house in a shed.

My mom’s lilac bushes looked so big and sturdy. All of the windows had pretty, delicate curtains in them.

The house looked so innocuous, innocent of all the pathos of 22 (!) years ago. I saw the windows of the room I shared with my sister, the kitchen window, the attic window that my mom once dressed up as a scary jack o’ lantern.

Yes, there were traumas there, but they didn’t seem as important as the beauty, the space, the color. Traumas take up so much space in memory, but really, and luckily for me, so little actual time. Percentagewise, I had a happy childhood. I kind of wish I’d realized that sooner.

Amy and I walked down to the hayfield where my family used to fly kites. Amy took a picture and I said what you always have to say: “I’m out standing in my field.” I felt flooded with well-being and luck.

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