They say, “You can never go back home.” What if you never left?
When I arrived this little rebuilt town was still the capitol of the commonwealth. It was a railway hub producing cigarettes, banking and the usual businesses surrounding a center of post-war posterity. Churches and schools peppered the area while Jim Crow still divided the Broad Street. Real estate was spreading into agriculture creating suburbia. Automobiles were being sold as fast as refrigerators and televisions.
We stood, placed our hands on our hearts and pledged alliance to the flag every morning. We also hid under our desk to protect us from nuclear bombs. We walked to school and played on jungle gyms at recess. In the evenings we road our bikes around the neighborhood and rang the doorbells to Trick or Treat.
Each change of schools lost so many familiar faces and introduced strangers. College became the first reason to leave town, but I stayed. Marriage, employment, family were all good reasons to leave home and travel to another location, but I stayed. White flight drove people to the counties, but I stayed.
Some return and are astounded with the changes, but I’ve seen it happen day-by-day. Still I’m at awe to wander the streets I once knew and see them as if I’d traveled to the other side of the world.
My small college has turned into a university and is taking over midtown. Giant department stores that were the occasion to visit the bustling downtown area wearing white gloves and view the trains in the display windows are gone. No one ever explained why the escalators that were so much fun to play on got thinner on the third floor? More traffic required digging up the trolley tracks. Old limestone storefronts were covered in aluminum and they moved to the malls, leaving empty promises and forgotten wishes. Former tobacco warehouse have been transformed to swank condos and a slave disembark area now holds expensive bistros and riverfront high-rise hotels and offices. The schools are the same but the hospitals have all moved.
The city even annexed part of the land across the river, but I never crossed the river except for vacations. The ballpark was expanded and an entertainment area built but the feel of the city never truly changed. Some temporary housing neighborhoods were torn down for expensive condos while others turned into public housing. Other areas have not been touched. A ribbon of concrete has been wound around the city but the railroads still rumble at night with coal to keep the lights on.
As with any neighborhood one wishes to live, I found a spot that is quiet, comfortable and somewhat crime free. Neighbors’ come and go like old school classmates. Families and fences grow as fast as the trees.
When I see the historical images of what was, I can relate to most of them. If you live long enough, you get old.
The place where the cool kids hung out for ice cream, the old dance hall over a bowling alley that didn’t standup to the test of time, the drive-in where the windows fogged up, the corner restaurant with the best double-cheese pizza, a row of movie theaters to watch Sunday matinee monster movies, and many more are only memories now.
Still the summers are as hot as I had forgotten and the winters are getting colder. The birds still wake you in the springtime and the full moon lights up the silent nights. Rocking on a porch with a silent conversation to yourself you can wave at the neighbors not knowing their names.
It is a ghost town.
Even if you don’t leave you can’t go home.