Thomas Wolfe was right, you can never truly go home. Figuratively or literally…all of our homes are no more. My law office is in Fort Worth, Texas about 20 miles from the house that I grew up in on Oak Street in my hometown of Hurst. Since I started this blog about growing up in Texas I have been spending many an afternoon in quantified snapshots of my childhood. I jump in the past for about an hour while I write the latest blog entry, then presto, I hit publish and I am back to the reality of life in the 21st Century.
I have to admit that living in the past for those moments has kept me nostalgic and I found myself in my old neighborhood recently. I had a quick appearance in a justice of the peace court close by and before I knew it I was driving down familiar paths. I pulled onto my old street and parked under a shade tree. This was a place in my past where anything could happen if you imagined it…anything was possible in your future if you planned and worked hard for it. I took in the present and drifted back to the days long ago when I ran around in cut off blue jeans and perpetually scabbed knees. Go long Julie…down to Mrs. Champeaux’s car and cut left, I will hit you with the pass!
The neighborhood was much smaller than I remembered, the front lawns are typical size, not the 100 yard football fields that I envisioned in my youth. It is run down and what we would call a “lower income” neighborhood now. Back in its heyday it was the stuff that Leave it to Beaver was made out of…picture perfect American Dream material. Of course that vision was/is skewed, there were no families of color within 25 miles of my house. The American Dream in the 60s and 70s was quite a different concept, depending on what side of the railroad tracks you were born on…unattainable for a number of people. Sure, the neighborhood now had diversity, but it also had a stank about it, a smell of desperation. Desperate people working their butts off, barely able to see middle-class on the horizon.
The Fraser Photinia bushes I used to play behind were still along side my childhood home. I remember setting up a card table with a red/white checked table cloth on it. I pretended the shaded interior of the bushes was an outdoor cafe in Italy. I served pretend pizzas to the other neighborhood kids who paid for their dinner in marbles. The overall appearance of the house was okay, but it needed attention at just about every level of upkeep. I fought the urge to go knock on the door and feign entry somehow. Even the truth sounded like a weird plan…”Hey, I used to live here. Can I come snoop around the inside of your house?”
I was actually the most curious about one piece of wood molding. There was a door that divided the kitchen from the hall of the house, and the side molding of that door would be a cherished piece of memorabilia for me. For it was on that door where my mother documented our growth every year, carving the wood with a steak knife and marking it with an ink pen. If the subsequent owners hadn’t done anything as far as remodeling to the house…could that still be there?
There are two yards on the street that are still kept up and nice. I know, for a fact, that two long-time residents still live there…in their eighties, but still kicking. That is the one thing I have trouble understanding sometimes….why does poor have to go hand in hand with trashy or unkempt? It doesn’t….but I still try not to judge because even a lawn mower and gas cost money. Who knows, the occupants of my old home might be choosing between gas and groceries this week….right?
The shopping center about 3 blocks up the road used to have a beautiful theater, back when they only had one screen per building. There was also a pizza place, a five and dime, and a drug store called the Super-X. Now there is a car parts store, and a convienence mart that sells liquor, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. Most of the units in the shopping center are vacant and grass grows up between the cracks in the parking lot.
I thought back to walking the isles of that five and dime store called M.E. Moses. The manager wore a suit and tie and was a surly looking guy that reminded me of Ed Sullivan. I used to imagine him announcing my name as we entered the store, just like on the TV show. Now shopping in isle 2…a tom-boy that can hit a fast ball and knows good jokes….plus we have The Beatles…a reeeeally gooood shoooow for you tonight!
I usually bought caps for my pistol, along with long, flat taffy and jaw-breakers. I also bought a Mickey Mouse watch there one day in 1973 that I still have today. The kids that now live in my house will never know the joy of a true five and dime….you could actually buy a sack of candy for a dime! My mother would always give me a quarter for her candy of choice…she went for the good stuff….a Cherry Mash, remember those?
If I could give one thing to all the kids in my hometown today, it would be the kind of environment I had growing up. The feeling of safety…peace in your mind, good food in your stomach. Touch football in the street, bikes and go-carts, yo-yo’s, pretend pizza in the bushes…..forgetting to go inside to watch 3 TV channels because you were having the time of your life outside. You know the time I am talking about right? When a large drink at McDonald’s was what they call a small now. That childhood is the recipe for creating well-adjusted adults my friends…..I chuckle when I write that because I had that and there are days when I feel my grip on sanity slipping…but I maintain because of that foundation!
I sat there under the shade tree and daydreamed a little before departing. I imagined The Rascals singing the song Groovin and children playing in the background. My sister Junene says to me, “hey, I found .65 cents in Dad’s recliner, wanna go up the street?” My mother is yelling something at me and standing at the front door with the fly swatter in her hand. Yeah, I say..the store sounds like a good idea! We should probably buy mother a Cherry Mash I tell Junene….I used her good dishes for my breakfast run in the bushes this morning! The smell of fresh-cut grass is in the air as we jump on our bikes and peddle our getaway.
Mr. Wolfe was right…you can’t go home, but you can briefly visit if you are a professional, middle-aged daydreamer like myself. I drove back to my office still thinking about that piece of wood molding….maybe one day I will get the nerve to knock on that door. Maybe the new occupant is a scruffy little tom-boy that likes to cook Italian dishes in the bushes and shoot cap guns…odds are she is into Beyonce and Justin Bieber and spends all day texting, never venturing outside….but a girl can still daydream. Anything is possible on Oak Street.
Once again, you have eloquently captured the feelings I share about growing up and about my “home”–in a neighborhood exactly like yours–which is now occupied by strangers (I feel like Goldilocks and wonder “who is that sleeping in my bed” every time I go by that house–and, worse, “who is that messing with my mom’s meticulously cared-for garden”). I love reading your blog!