What Used To Be Here

 

I made good time. According to the clock on the dashboard, it’s only three hours since I left home. And that’s including the time I took stopping at McDonald’s for a breakfast biscuit, and the slow traffic in Charlotte that seemed to have no discernible cause.

And yet the drive has taken me the distance of an entire lifetime. I turn the corner onto the street where I grew up, and everything looks exactly the same as it has looked for the last fifty years. Nothing ever changes here. But for the first time ever, I have a feeling I’ve never had before: I don’t really recognize this place anymore. How can that be, when it hasn’t changed?

Mom greets me as usual. She’s approaching ninety, and I suppose she probably looks it, but I don’t see that; I just see Mom, the same as ever. But she’s having trouble remembering things. She doesn’t seem to know how to use the computer anymore, and she doesn’t understand the document she received in the mail from one of her financial institutions. I still see the same Mom as ever, the woman who earned a master’s degree while raising me, the woman I used to talk to about history and used to come to for advice. She needs my advice now.

I take her out for an early Mother’s Day dinner. As we drive across town, I scan the buildings we pass, and I realize that I’m not actually seeing any of them. I’m seeing what used to be there. Ah, yes, that’s where the Community Cash store was. That’s where the Pizza Hut was, the one where my girlfriend and I used to go sometimes. I navigate this town by landmarks, but none of them are actually there anymore.

Back in the neighborhood again, it looks as familiar as it ever did. And I realize that I’m doing the same thing. That’s where my friend Will used to live. That’s the house where we used to always see Mrs. Greeley’s four chihuahuas out in the driveway. That’s the ditch where my friends and I used to play in the culvert.

But if I look closer, do the houses maybe seem a bit more run-down? Is the pavement a little bit more broken, a bit more in need of repair?

Or is it just me that’s different? I now live a life that’s in another time and place. I live three hours away from here, and fifty years away from here. When I visit, I’m visiting a museum of my past. I treasure the memories and what they mean to me, but the place itself … it isn’t really here anymore. None of it is. I just come here to remind myself of what used to be here.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.: I just come here to remind myself of what used to be here.

    Amen.

    • #1
  2. Dave L Member
    Dave L
    @DaveL

    Ah, memories. My parents have been gone some thirty years now, but when I am on that side of town I find myself driving past their house. Just shadows of good times past.

    • #2
  3. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Fine post, Bartholomew.

    • #3
  4. Jim George Member
    Jim George
    @JimGeorge

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.: Mom greets me as usual. She’s approaching ninety, and I suppose she probably looks it, but I don’t see that; I just see Mom, the same as ever

    Mom and Dad have been gone for a very long time and yet when I got out her photo, taken probably when I was not even a fully formed thought, it was almost like I could hear her voice. I took a picture of that old photo and put it on Facebook with a Mother’s Day message and one of sons promptly responded that one look at that picture and he could almost hear her say one of her standard admonitions such as “if you don’t stop that I’m going out and getting a switch off the tree by the back door!” He also observed she never did get that switch and the tree by the back door remained untouched with all its switches intact. I know you know this-it is obvious from this writing-but you are so, so fortunate to have your Mom here at 90 to take out for a Mother’s Day lunch. Times like these wake up memories and emotions and even smells –yesterday I could have sworn I got a waft of Mom’s roast and rice and gravy and green peas- which remind us, once again, how lucky we were to have them and their limitless love for all of us. Thank you for this beautiful post; I would be most grateful if you would give me permission to send it out on my own blog so it can be shared with others. Thanks again, and Happy Mother’s Day to all, Jim

    • #4
  5. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Whenever I visit Raleigh, I like to drive through the old neighborhood.  The people who bought our house (or the people after them) moved the driveway and planted trees to shield it from the road.  Still, I get a glimpse and the memories start coming back . . .

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Jim George (View Comment):
    he could almost hear her say one of her standard admonitions such as “if you don’t stop that I’m going out and getting a switch off the tree by the back door!” He also observed she never did get that switch and the tree by the back door remained untouched with all its switches intact.

    One of my mother’s phrases when we were growing up would be to ask a question, such as, “Do you want me to beat your head in?” It was never a threat, simply a question.

    • #6
  7. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    Jim George (View Comment):

    I would be most grateful if you would give me permission to send it out on my own blog so it can be shared with others. Thanks again, and Happy Mother’s Day to all, Jim

    I’m flattered, and I have no objection.

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Member
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Beautifully said, BXO. Makes me miss my mom.

    • #8
  9. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Outstanding post.  Absolutely outstanding.

    • #9
  10. MikeMcCarthy Coolidge
    MikeMcCarthy
    @MikeMcCarthy

    Beautiful post.

    Thousands of miles away I sometimes use Google street view to remind me of what was.

    • #10
  11. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    MikeMcCarthy (View Comment):

    Beautiful post.

    Thousands of miles away I sometimes use Google street view to remind me of what was.

    And with Street View you can also go back in time, at least to some extent.

    I can use Street View to see what is now at the location of the Jr High School I went to (which has been demolished and replaced with a new addition to the adjacent High School), or I can look at the school I went to by going back just a few years before the “upgrade.”

    • #11
  12. J Ro Member
    J Ro
    @JRo

    Nothing lasts. This old wooden house in Ginza, Tokyo reminds me of a children’s story book from my youth, but I’ve forgotten any details.

    • #12
  13. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Great post, and it resonated with me down to the quantum level. For some people the most irrelevant phrase is “that used to be X” and for others it’s tremendously important.

    Everyone is an emissary of the quotidian past.

    • #13
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