The job search takes up most of my time now. At the end of the day sometimes I’m a bit brain dead. Networking events, phone calls, emails, online applications, head hunter interviews…at the end of the day I sometimes just want to watch Gilligan’s Island with a huge bowl of popcorn on my lap.
But one day I decided to go for a drive. After living overseas for a year, I felt the urge to drive around the towns where I once lived. Prior to my departure, I had driven through these towns many, many times on the way to someplace else. Now, however, I was feeling a bit emotionally peckish.
During my adolescence, I lived out in the countryside, a few miles outside my original hometown of Woodburn, Oregon. But, since we had moved across the county line, I wound up attending a different high school in the small farming community of Canby, leaving my childhood classmates behind. Since the adolescent memories were freshest in my mind, I opted to take a drive in that area.
It was a relatively nice day. The sun was peaking out occasionally from the clouds. Mt. Hood was draped in snow–124% of normal, indicating a potentially water-safe year this summer.
As I drove down a straight-as-an-arrow road, I approached one of my first landmarks–my cousin’s former home. We had spent many a Christmas Eve in this grand old structure with it’s enormous front porch, hardwood floors and huge picture windows. As a kid I used to ride my bike over so my cousins and I could wander around the woodlands out in the back.
There was an old barn that no one seemed to use. Since my cousins were renting, the property including the barn, wasn’t theirs. No matter, we used to love going through the fields and woods, jumping across the creek, throwing rocks and eating wild blackberries. Then we’d come back covered in mud and grass.
But as I approached now in my car, I noticed the house was gone. In its place was a metal shed. I stared at the site. Was it the right place? Yup. The ancient oaks were still there. The old barn was in the back. I remembered the house across the road where an elderly couple lived. We loved going over to visit them and listen to their stories about the War and the Depression–and being fed cookies.
I was a bit disheartened. I couldn’t believe that anyone would have torn down such a magnificent old home. Oregonians are fiercely proud of their heritage and fight practically to the death to prevent wonderful old structures from being demolished. I kept driving, wondering what happened to that beautiful house.
Continuing on, I drove to the former home of my late aunt and uncle. We had spent many Christmases at their home. It was always a tradition to spend Thanksgiving at one aunt’s home, Christmas Eve at my cousin’s, Christmas at another aunt’s home and New Year’s at our place.
I had always loved the Christmases we spent at my aunt Liz’s home. She was a sweet, dear person, a devout Christian with a heart full of love (and a fridge full of food) for everyone. Always smiling, you fell in love with her immediately. With never a harsh word against anyone, you always felt love in her house. Which was why Christmas was always so memorable.
Her house would always be decorated within an inch of its life. Indeed, everyone in our family did the same thing. Lights were everywhere; candles burned. There was the smell of a live fir tree with its fake canned snow. Christmas music played, songs sung by Jim Reeves. There were pumpkin pies, apple pies, an enormous turkey, breads and cookies. Enough food for the entire zip code.
And out here I would wander with another cousin. When he got a horse, I climbed aboard with a local girl and we swayed back and forth, trying to get our bearings as the beast sat there contentedly. Eventually we both slid off onto our collective asses, laughing and crying as we rubbed our hips.
When a hive of honey bees made its home in one of the huge grand oaks, my cousin found a can of gasoline and lunged it at the tree, followed by a burning newspaper. We watched the trunk erupt into flames and listened to the sizzle of burning honey. We thought we were so cool.
Upon driving up the hill to their former ten acre plot, though, I noticed that something had changed. The manufactured home on the land where her son had lived had been replaced with a different model. The manufactured home my aunt and uncle lived in had been demolished and a 3000 square foot behemoth had arisen behind it. I was crestfallen.
No matter, farther down the road was the site of an old farmhouse where she used to live. The Christmases spent there were more of an Americana experience. I felt I could at least drive by that 100-year-old home, gaze at its gables and the old red barn and revisit lost memories.
However, upon arriving at the site, I was chagrined to find that grand old home had also been demolished. It its place rose a 4000 square foot house with a three car garage. The trees had all been torn out. Three homes chock full of memories from my youth had been taken out. Where had I been?
Driving onward, I opted to visit the home where I spent my adolescence. My dad had always wanted a piece of land where he could raise a couple of cows for meat and where my dog, Tim, could run free and chase squirrels.
The cow ownership had a bit of a laughable episode because my mom and sister became too distraught when the slaughterhouse sent a truck to take away our steer, King, to be turned into juicy steaks and roasts. They bawled as the truck drove away.
I, however, loved to joke about how good King tasted every time I bit into a hamburger or a sirloin, much to my mom’s chagrin. I was a sarcastic little bastard.
It was while living in this home that I learned how to drive, had my first date, started high school and then college. I remembered backing out of the driveway in my Datsun pickup on my way to Portland that hot August afternoon when KGW radio announced that Elvis had died.
I could still remember the dark, cloudy winters when I would listen, hunched over my transistor radio, to the scratchy episodes of Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty. Which song was Number One this week? For some reason, I couldn’t get Ringo Starr’s “Photograph” out of my mind. From there it was a short jaunt down memory lane to memories of John Denver’s Back Home Again during the summer of ’74.
I pictured myself riding my ten speed bicycle down country lanes…sometimes without holding the handlebars. I could almost smell the newly-mowed hay and the weed-filled fields. I remembered eating handfuls of hazelnuts from the voluminous orchards that peppered the landscape.
But, driving up to our old home, built in 1972 and bought brand new by my folks, I saw a new, elegant home that had replaced ours. While I was willing to understand (perhaps) taking out the other older houses for something new, I found it odd that a house that wasn’t terribly old had been leveled for yet another newer, executive-level home.
The whole day left me somewhat empty. Driving onward, I finally went to my original hometown of Woodburn, the town in which I was raised, the town where I started school. I knew one of our old houses was still there–and it was. Originally purchased for $14,000 in 1968 it was now cresting around $245K.
But I had to see it. After four different stops, attempting to re-create images and memories from four different homes, I found my history had been swept away. It was as though someone had taken a cloth and wiped my memory landscape clean. Nothing was there. Only vague images that seemed to float over the landscape like ghostly souls with no place to land.
I had been gone for a year. Much can change in a year’s time. Living in a different country can impact one’s psyche, broaden one’s horizons. But there’s always room for those toasty warm memories that colored our childhood and adolescent palettes. Many of my most vivid memories will fade even more without the benefit of these homes and locales where so many intense experiences were realized.
Perhaps it’s best. Even though I never really spent much time visiting these places before, I felt the need for a touchstone experience after my yearlong expatriate life. But the touchstones are gone. With a sigh I have to let them go just as I let go of those in my life who made the moments so unforgettable.
Tomorrow is another networking event. I have two audio PowerPoint presentations to finish and some calls to make.