My older brother recently sent me an email about his 50th high school reunion in our small Midwestern hometown. I haven’t been back in years, so he described the changes since our childhood.
The drive-in teen hangout was gone and the family sit-down restaurant had expanded. My elementary school building had been razed years ago, and my high school—which was brand new in the 1970s when I attended—had been demolished for an even newer building.
The streets now have two roundabouts—why, I don’t know. It’s not as if the town ever had gridlock or even heavy traffic.
The city library I frequented, although the same on the outside, has changed inside, I’m sure. Computers have replaced the old card catalog I rifled through. Harry Potter and other newer books are probably on the shelves that once held the Sue Barton books I read.
The grand brick-and-stained-glass church building where my family worshiped is a mattress store. The congregation moved into a newer building that resembles a barn.
Most of the old stores are gone. The downtown movie cinema is now a community theater playhouse, and a movie multi-plex has sprung up in the commercial district on the edge of town.
Every now and then, when I’m tired of the incessant traffic, high prices and nanny laws in SoCal where I live, I think about my hometown, at rather, an idealized version of it.
A few years ago I had an urge to move back. But why? When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to leave for the “big city.” I never ate at the drive-in, and was bored by school (no AP classes for gifted students). Shopping choices were limited to a handful of mom-and-pop stores, especially after the Sears and JC Penny moved out.
Physically my classmates have changed, but not so much socially. I had few close friends when in school, and by now those who still live in the hometown have their own social circles. I couldn’t break in.
I suppose it’s human nature to continually seek a non-existent Paradise where life will be perfect. When we’re faced with adult responsibilities, it feels good to retreat into a childhood where our biggest worry was returning a library book by the due date, or choosing the flavor of ice cream we wanted on the apple pie.
“The Twilight Zone” had several episodes about a man (why not a woman?) returning to his childhood home and finding he no longer belonged. This no doubt sprang from Rod Serling’s recollection of his upbringing in upstate New York. After moving to L.A. as an adult, he and his family made annual pilgrimages back to NY State for quiet vacations, away from the stress and egos of Hollywood.
When I get blue, I think about the opportunities I have here in SoCal. I could not have written my Sandy Fairfax series if I had not experienced the TV/movie industry and SoCal life for myself. I’ve seen some nifty museums and met some great people. I love my church and the clergy. I have a steady job. Although I miss the fall leaves and cooler autumns, I love not having to drive on winter snow and ice.
Perhaps childhood memories best belong in the past, because the reality is so much different today.