It’s not even on Google Street View.
About a mile from the home in which I grew up, Google decided they had seen enough and turned onto (more of) a main road. And after my parents sold that house in 2007, I’ve never had a reason to go back, so the place I called home for a quarter-century only remained in my memories.
It was a wonderful home for a kid – five bedrooms on four acres, plenty of space inside and out to have alone time, play football, ride go-karts, and enjoy Thanksgiving. But, as is often the case, a home that is perfect for a child is suburgatory for teenagers. What is preferable for most parents – safe, quiet, open – is anathema to young people that drive too fast and want to be free to hang out and party.
We moved out of a city for the same reasons and I’m sure my kid(s) will one day feel the same way. Circle of life.
There is a reason the plot of so many books and films is rooted in a person returning to their hometown.
It evokes strong emotions.
I had stopped going into the main parts of town long before my parents sold their home. Because of where the house was located, on the edge of the school district, when I would visit them on break from college or after I had my own place in Philly, I never had a need to go anywhere near my high school or the parks where I played sports. There were areas I hadn’t seen since 1998.
Over the weekend, that changed. I went back, by myself, and as I was driving around those neighborhoods for the first time in ten or fifteen years, areas that I had frequented on a daily basis in my adolescence, first on a bike, then in a car, it felt surreal, like a mixture of a hazy dream mixed with a sense of déjà vu. I had driven by these homes and stores literally thousands of times, but in another life. I had left as a cocky yet insecure loudmouth brat who was only interested in the next fun time and was returning a husband and a father with a mortgage and worries about retirement. I was having both re-entry and culture shock. I even got lost a few times, my brain only remembering where things were after I had passed them.
Thoughts like This is where I kissed that beautiful girl and That’s the house where we went to a party after the prom went racing through my mind. Everything looked the same, but not. It’s like a skewed version of what once was. I also retrofitted the present to fit my memories of the past. Some places obviously looked different, but others looked the same. Didn’t they?
There are more developments and fast food shops, but most things look familiar. I drove past woods I used to explore as a boy and I know that some of those fallen trees haven’t moved in decades. The covered bridge is still there, but the giant Batman sticker that adorned the water tower since 1989 has either been removed or faded away. Some signs and buildings have been updated, others look untouched. The ice plant I worked at is gone, but the miniature golf center where my sister got me a job is still in business.
I went to two of the three elementary schools I had attended and drove past the church where I served as an altar boy. I bought a bottle of the iced tea we guzzled by the half gallon (it’s still delicious) and I stopped by the pizza shop next to the Little League field that was the cool hangout in the mid-’90s. I told you there wasn’t much to do. For old times sake, I ordered a couple of slices and I swear the guy behind the counter was the same one that had served me twenty years ago, but he looked like he hadn’t aged a day. Is that possible? Was I just imagining what that guy had looked like? (Update: I have been informed that it is the same guy. He must have the fountain of youth in one of those pizza ovens.)
The weirdest moment was visiting my high school. The district had embarked on a much needed and long overdue $88 million renovation project five years after I graduated, so the location and the parking lot are the same, but it is not the school I attended for four years. From the outside, there is nothing resembling the building where I took classes, flirted badly, participated in a male beauty pageant, and played varsity basketball. I tried to summon the emotion that had come easily when I saw other places, but it just didn’t happen. That school is gone forever, replaced by a beautiful new one.
Facebook has erased some of the barriers that once existed between the past and the present – I no longer see the need for reunions – but sometimes it’s good to go back home and reconnect your present with your past.
Until next time…
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
One reply on “Sweet Home Pennsylvania”
Well written, P.
LikeLiked by 1 person