Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | March 5, 2011

A Home Run

The past two weeks have been quite the whirlwind, punctuated with funerals, illness and an all-around messed up schedule. I never realized half a month could go by in such a blur. Fortunately, I was able to find a positive angle: I managed to go for a run along the streets of my hometown, a nice jog down memory lane.

One of the funerals I attended in February was back East, only about 25 miles from where I grew up. I had a small chunk of time the morning of the service, so I decided to get up early and drive down to what used to be home. Getting off the highway, I was immediately struck by how things had changed, as I sat marveling at the enormous, sleek Whole Foods that stood on the corner where the tacky orange roof of the Howard Johnson’s used to dominate. My favorite HoJo Mocha Chip ice cream was no more, swapped for organic ice cream made from hormone-free milk produced by lovingly tended cows afforded greater rights than women in many Middle East countries….but I digress.

I drove down the road, with some things looking much the same, such as the cemetery and the car dealership, and some things looking remarkably different, like the housing stock. I drove to my old elementary school, which was exactly as I remembered it. The play field, however, looked so much smaller. I remember doing the 50 yard dash across it during Field Day, all those years ago, and at the time it seemed so much larger, an expanse spanning, quite possibly, several time zones. And yet as I gazed upon it as a grown-up, it looked downright cute. Heck, it barely looked 50 yards wide. Certainly it could not be the same field of torture from my childhood, could it?

I parked my car and got ready to go for a jog. I’d planned to run from the school down to the beach and back, a journey that I was certain would be about 4-5 miles, round trip. Imagine my surprise when I MapQuested it and found out that the beach was barely three-quarters of a mile away. How was that possible? When I walked that route as a child it would routinely take me a full hour! Of course, the fact that I stopped to pick every dandelion in my path, to make a much-coveted bouquet for my mother, might have had something to do with it. No, I needed a better route. So I headed the other direction, on a loop that I knew (as verified online) would be at least 5 miles.

While I ran, I was plagued by the feeling akin to bumping into someone you went to high school with: familiar and yet different at the same time. What I remembered as small Cape- or Gambrel-style houses had been dismantled and replaced by the standard Nouveau McMansions. But the curve of the street was the same. The vista as I came over the bridge was unchanged. The dead-end appeared in the exact same place it always had. One thing, however, was drastically different: the hills were much, much larger than I remembered. Perhaps that’s not because I’ve been gone so long, but more likely because I have become a bit soft living in the Midwest.

I have to confess that I, a hard-core keep-your-emotions-suppressed-at-all-times New Englander, found myself verging on emotional. Here I was, in a place where I used to be young, after dealing with issues of aging made real by four deaths in less than two months. There was something moving about returning to the streets of my childhood while in the midst of such a spate of funerals. The combination made me acutely aware of the passing of time.

My grandparent’s generation is gone, for the most part. My parent’s generation is aging, sometimes rapidly. People that I thought would be around forever, such as my sister-in-law’s mom, whose funeral I was in town for, were suddenly no longer there. And yet there was something rejuvenating about seeing my old elementary school, looking at the playground where we used to play “The Boys Chase the Girls,” and its corollary, “The Girls Chase the Boys.” Having been spared the ravages of Cooties, we’d been fortunate enough to grow up. I stood mesmerized for a moment, musing on how the passage of time is both a gift and a curse, but when I started to hear “The Circle of Life” echoing in my head, I knew it was time to wrap up and find a Starbucks. I can only think deep thoughts for so long before I start to drown.

Luckily, I was able to cap off my quick trip back home with a special treat, something appropriate to the theme of my voyage. Before heading back to the funeral, I swung by my best-friend’s parents’ house. Who knew when I’d be back in that neck of the woods again, and they’d always meant so much to me growing up. I’d known them since first grade. Their house had been my second home. As my best-friend’s parents, they were the best possible version of parents: they were always happy to see me, they never grounded me, they didn’t need to nag me to make my bed or do my chores, but they always had cookies for me (a stash of Oreos, just for when Sue came over). They were a special addition to my memories of childhood, a blessing lodged in my brain for me to remember all these years later.

I nearly burst into tears when I saw them, although perhaps the sting in my eyes was from the lingering pain of those damn hills. Although they have since moved from the house I knew as a child, their new home had that different-but-familiar feeling. The same furniture, the same decor adorning the walls, the same easy laughter filling the room. For a moment, I was twelve again, feeling nothing but love and unending optimism, with the future stretched before me, time suspended. But then the moment passed.

We had all of 15 minutes to chat before I had to hop back in the car, race the clock 25 miles back up the highway and take the fastest shower ever in order to make the funeral on time. But it was worth every minute to have a short, if emotionally laden, jog down memory lane. I hope everyone gets that opportunity at some point.


Responses

  1. Very nicely done. Running back home is always a more loaded, richer experience than just running. Thanks for this.

    • Thanks Tony. It was certainly a great opportunity. And thanks for reading!

  2. Good post. I am convinced that time actually accelerates as we get older. Remember (as a kid) when a year seemed like it was FOREVER? Of course, a busy schedule does occupy a huge chunk of it now. Being a responsible, working adult sucks. We never knew how good we had it as kids.

    • Kari, you are so right! I remember even just a day lasted forever in back in school. The clock seemed to grind to a halt at 2:45 every afternoon. Now days just seem to fly by in a blur. It’s not fair!


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