“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”
You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe
We lived on the Dead-End when I was growing up. At least that’s what we always called it.
When the town on the edge of a swamp was settled and eventually paved, there must have been some reason for ending a street the way the one we grew up on did. I guess you could say we lived on a strange little cul-de-sac before cul-de-sacs were cool. We never questioned why the other kids in town lived on streets that intersected with other streets or highways while ours ended with a basketball hoop attached to a light pole and two flat-roofed garages where there was just enough space for a skinny kid to take a short cut. All we knew was that our street was a central gathering place for anyone on the North End wanting to ride bikes or play hide and seek until the mosquitoes drove them indoors. Thinking back, it was an awesome way to grow up. It really was.
If I close my eyes, I can conjure up memories of the people who woke up every morning in the houses that lined the Dead End. The Wilhelms, Wolfes, our own family, and Otts made up one side of the street while Koziseks, Dedericks, Mrs. Peck, Lyons, Barbers and Swishers made up the other. Each house was neat as a pin on the outside, with flower gardens and large, lovely, evergreens in many of the yards.
The young have tunnel vision where their own childhoods are concerned. Childhood, after all, is neither as carefree nor as complicated as we remember it. Time takes old neighbors. Sometimes it takes young ones, too. We learned that on the dead-end. Too soon, the rest of us outgrew the street where we scraped knees playing tag and rested, spent, on the hill in our front yard under an inky-black sky, wishing on stars.
Why should it matter that decades ago, families I knew lived in those modest homes on both sides of a dead-end street? Why do I long for the way the pretty brick home I was raised in looked growing up and Mrs. Wolfe’s perennials and asparagus in her neatly tended gardens? Why does it grieve me, especially, to think about the trees? Mrs. Peck’s spruce in her front yard? The Ott family’s towering pine? The gangly evergreen that a blond boy in dark horn-rimmed glasses planted one day in front of my aunt’s kitchen window before the neighborhood lost the boy. Then, there was just the tree. Lance’s tree.
In a world with so much else to care about, why does any of this matter? Why do I care about a street where kids laughed and played so long ago? About trees that strong summer winds blew down?
Maybe, no matter how old we are, once in awhile, we just want to be able to go home again. To the streets and people. To the homes and shady places we knew as kids.
Perhaps childhood is about more than childish things, after all.