They say you can’t go home again, and they’re right. But you can visit, and sometimes that’s enough.
Last weekend, I went back to Galesburg, Illinois for the first time in over forty years. Our family lived there from the time I was a baby until I completed fourth grade. We lived in three different houses, two of which I remember. The third was my favorite of all the houses in which I’ve lived. That house and that neighborhood remain vivid in my memory to this day. I’ve written about it before, in such pieces as “Seven, and It’s Summer.”
I had the chance to tell that story and to talk about a number of other memories with my best friend from those days last Saturday in a coffee shop in downtown Galesburg. We talked about the endless backyards in which we played, our trips over the brick streets on our bikes to buy baseball cards in the little corner stores, playing basketball in our driveway, looking up to the high school kids who reenacted the World Series with fast pitch wiffleball games in their driveway across the street, and memories from Bateman School, where we attended.
After I moved, Mark and I made a few trips to spend weekends with each other. The last time I saw him and hung out with the guys from the neighborhood was when I visited his house as a young teenager. We’ve only seen each other once since then, but when I knew I was going to be near town last weekend, I wrote him immediately and made plans to get together.
Mark and I can sit down and talk as though we were nine years old yesterday. The scenes are as clear in my mind as if they just happened, and he remembered them too.
It turns out our old house still has the same siding on it that it had fifty years ago. The willow tree that I used to swing on out back is gone, but the one next to it, with the split trunk that provided a young boy a place to curl up and think about life is still standing and much taller. The two and a half car garage has been painted white, and the basketball goal is one of those portable ones off to the side now rather than a backboard on the garage like we had. I told Gail that this was the garage I jumped off while holding an umbrella after seeing “Mary Poppins.” Saturday, I walked around back and saw where I used to nail my grandpa’s catcher’s mitt so I could practice when no one was around to play catch. Mark remembered that ancient mitt too.
The street still turns to brick just down from our house, and seeing it, I could almost hear and feel the rumble of my bike wheels on it. It used to be lined with majestic elms before the disease took them, but otherwise the neighborhood looks like time stood still. It was kind of sad to me that no kids were out playing in the yards or on the street last Saturday. That was about the only thing missing.
My world was fairly small then; just one street, school a few streets over, and some places around town where we took extended adventures on occasion. But it was a world, a rich world of life and friends and stories and imagination.
We drove by the church where I was baptized and where my family attended back then. That I don’t remember too clearly, but I take solace in the fact that God knew me and loved me long before I was consciously aware of him. It wasn’t long ago that my mom sent me a couple of books which used to sit on my parents’ bookcase: one about Jesus and the other about the twelve disciples. My grandma had given them to me as baptismal presents. I do recall looking through those books with interest as a young child.
I have been blessed to have several incredible “worlds” in which I’ve lived over the years (see “Moving” — a post that talks about that). All of those worlds, the people who lived there, and the stories we made together have combined through a wondrous alchemy to shape me into who I am, for better or worse.
Last weekend I was a young boy again, riding my bike with my best friend over brick streets. Not a care in the world. There, together in a world that I may have left, but which will never leave me.