Yesterday we took a day trip to visit some old friends from my hometown. I haven’t been in the area for at least 10 years, so I was looking forward to seeing some old childhood hangouts and taking a trip down memory lane. I was going to show the kiddos the house I spend most of my childhood in; schools I suffered through, and other quirks of the region.

Instead I found myself in some kind of nightmarish bad rendition of my hometown. The houses all looked run down. Homeless people roamed the highway. Even the streets were so full of potholes and cracks the kids in the backseats were bouncing around like jumping beans.

But what hurt the most was the fact I could no longer recognize anything. All the fields and farms; every small grove of trees was replaced by a Walgreen’s on every corner, strip malls sitting vacant along the roads, billboards everywhere screaming not to abort that fetus.

The population of the area had grown from the maybe 10,000 total when I was a child to 75,000 or more. The small single lane highways I knew were all replaced with dizzying four lane expressways. No longer could you see a turkey or deer along the roadway. Cold brown walls boxed us in.

The kicker was crossing the small bridge to drive down the road going to the last house we’d owned before moving west. The road was moved. I sat at the stop sign for a moment; my brain unable to even recognize an intersection I must have traveled on hundreds of thousands of times during the first 25 years of my life. Lee had to direct us to the house. I felt like crying, screaming, and throwing up all at once.

Somehow I wanted it all to be the same. Frozen in time. I wanted to see the fields I roamed in, the rivers I canoed in, the forests of pine planted by the CCC years ago that I’d climbed up. We never made it over to my childhood home. I didn’t want to go. I was too afraid of what I might see destroyed. Is my mother’s birch tree still there? The pond out back? Let them be safe in my memory. In my heart.

Don’t get me wrong, I did have a great time with our friends. I’m glad I went to visit them.

I just have a new appreciation for ones like my dad, whose whole childhood neighborhood is gone. I can relate to the pain.

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