Hometown Blues

I've never really left the area where I grew up. So many people I meet are geographically nowhere near where they started. Sometimes I envy their new adventures. I never intentionally decided to stay, but I guess I just never really left - there was never a reason to go, so I didn't.  I spent one year of college in Tennessee (my first freshman year - there were 2.5 freshman years if you're counting - my parents were). Also, I'm technically raising my family in an adjacent county.

But for the most part, I still navigate the same curves, hills, and streets where I learned to drive.  I didn't leave and yet sometimes, it feels like a completely different place. A few of those curves have been improved. One bridge in particular that used to terrify my mother has now been made safer and easier to navigate and I do miss the adrenaline I would get taking that curve in the dark woods, over the creek at night. Kids these days - they'll never know.

When my parents and grandparents would talk about the changing landscape of their hometowns, it was because land and trees and forests were overtaken by suburban sprawl. Perfectly good green spaces were sacrificed for businesses and tract homes. My own family built our home in a brand new development, sacrificing "family land" for stucco, fancy brick designs and incredibly clever mailboxes that totally lacked functionality, not to mention they would fall over even if you BARELY touched it with the car. It was 1988 and the Atlanta suburbs were beginning to burst. Homes were being designed and built everywhere it seems. Homesteads and farms were sold off to developers for homes left and right...and why not...the Baby Boomers were raising families - times were good.

But the wave of change that crashed over my childhood and teenage years was on land already developed. Now as I drive the same path that I used to take to my best friend Jenny's house in my mom's old Audi 5000, I strain to remember the original houses that existed before they were torn down and small mansions erected in their stead. As the homes are being upgraded, the businesses for which buildings were built are long gone and have since either fallen too far from code or have been five other "concepts" since the 90's. The family-owned video store I used to work at is a restaurant, but it was three other things in between. I vaguely remember the gas station that is now a Zaxby's and an old Blockbuster became a gold exchange before settling on a dental practice. Only, one of the three dry cleaners we owned is still a dry cleaners. One is a sub sandwich chain that I recently went into and bored the teenager behind the counter to tears with my stories of the "good old days."

Even the old skating rink where I spent MANY weekends turning circles to pop music, wearing blue eye shadow, a Forenza shirt with rolled sleeves and Exclamation! perfume in the hopes that some boy would notice me...even that place has had a few iterations, one as a restaurant, before becoming a Goodwill.  To me, it will always be Sparkles.

Most days I don't really think about how much the "old town" has changed. It definitely feels more crowded. Less people that grew up here going about their day with no appreciation for it's past - and why should they care really? Most days I am too busy to look up and be nostalgic. I'm in that time in my life where full days fly by. I follow children, keep a house, a job and crawl into bed a little later than I should each night with nothing significant to show for my day except the fact that we made it. But other days, I notice it. I try to remember what everything looked like. I try to remember being 16 (minus the horrible bangs and angst) and heading out with $20 that would more than cover an entire evening of fun which might include an arcade (you see, kids, an arcade is when your screentime was managed by quarters and whether or not you had a ride).

Today we cleaned out my dad's closet. We took a lot of his things to MUST Ministries, but we took other bags down the street to Goodwill. It was overwhelming to think that almost 30 years ago, a carefree pre-teen zipped around in that very building with big dreams, bigger hair and so many ideas...and today, that woman left a piece of her dad there in that very same place. It was a sad full circle moment that I've been trying to shake all night.  Maybe it was the collision of the happiest times with one of the saddest. I think my dad would have gotten a kick out of it actually - there was a moment when the building was sort of the new Houcks - and my dad loved Houcks.

The old town has changed a lot. That girl has changed a lot. The sadness I feel is because those times were good ones. The heartbreak I have is because my dad was SO amazing. On these days when I feel the weight of grief crashing in on me, I force myself to stop looking back...instead I look down, at the two children I am eternally grateful to be able to raise. It feels like a circle, because life is a circle.

I hope, now that it's my turn to be the parent, that I'm doing a good job. I hope I'm creating a life in a place that they are not hurried to escape. I hope they feel the freedom to leave if they must, and though the landscape will most certainly change, I hope they drive through the streets of their childhood one day smiling about all the good times.  And, one day, if they have to leave my things at a Sparkles - I hope they know that it's okay to let go a little - and that THAT is where I'd want to be anyway.

Just don't forget to bring my blue eye shadow and hair crimper.

Respectfully,
Rachel

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