5/30/2009

Where would the roots have grown?

Someone I know vaguely from childhood sent me a "memory" thing on Facebook. The message that notified me of this had the text of what she had said, but I quickly accepted it because I was enthusiastic, knowing I would want to reply soon after. However it got lost. Tonight, though, I wanted to think back to that time.

We moved into our street in Campbell County, just outside Lynchburg, in 1980. 29 years ago. I've lived in Virginia for most of the time since then. I remember when we were looking for houses, I had said I liked the street we picked because it seemed to have the most kids. The house was on a cul-de-sac that bordered woods. I was so fortunate to have an entire forest to play in, complete with trails.

At the time, it was all public space as far as I was concerned. While my dad would end up buying the land in the 90's, when I was kid, those six acres were owned by Mrs. Weinbarger. There were several trails, and several places that had special significance. Chief among these was Dinosaur Land.

The path from my backyard led along a winding path for quite a ways before terminating at a cliff where there were several fallen trees. The shapes of their dead carcassses looked a bit like the bones of large reptiles, hence the name of the place. In the intervening years, those trees would decay further, but we occupied our time by digging a huge pit, setting up a zip-wire, and engineering dams. I had such great times back then, and can remember Judy King coming back into the woods to yell at us for creating a mess by backing up the creek.

There was also a wider universe out there. Pineland, which was across the creek. It was essentially this huge stand of pinetrees complete with this very strange dense section of pine. The creek itself was a major character in our lives, as we would play in it all the time. Tara McCraw, the woman who sent me the childhood memory, had something in her message about hunting for crawdads. I had totally forgotten that part.

Somehow in my adult life, these times get forgotten as we are in search of our new challenges and interests. Yet, sometimes we find ourselves in moments of reflection. It's good to look back and observe how we came to be the people we are.

I have lost touch with so many of the people I grew up with. All of their families moved on, so fast, and there was never any way to really keep going back then. We didn't have mobile phones. We didn't have the Internet.

We moved in to the house in June of 1980. I introduced myself to all of the kids in the neighborhood by sliding into them like we were playing baseball. I really wanted to impress them. I was six and happy to be in a new place. I felt so lucky to have this great new place, complete with a forest to play in. We were moving in from Chicago, Illinois, and I had high expectations for the new place. As a six-year-old, I got everything I wanted.

Next door to us were the Stoudts. Across the street were the Vormitaggs. Cindy was the same age as my brother. Also on the street were the Strickland kids, the Anderson kids, the Kings and the Meaks. For the next few years, they made up the characters in my mythology. They were my community. On outlying streets were people like Jesse Shieh and Jeffry Cudlin, smart kids who would teach me a lot about a lot of cool stuff. Jeff introduced me to audio recording when we made radio shows together. Jesse introduced fantasy in the form of role playing as well as video games. He got an Apple IIe at the same time I got an Atari 800.

As a new kid, I soaked up all the details of my friends life as I could. At least, I can imagine that's what I did because I can remember so much. I can't seem to write much of it down, because the memories I do have seem like fragments that pass through my mind like phantoms. It's been so long, and I've lived so much since then. It's important to remember I did live then, and that I did have a good childhood.

Yet, I have few people in my contemporary life who were really part of it. The only person who I stay in regular touch with from then is my friend Jeffry Cudlin, who lived up on another street. I'm talking more today about the people who were once part of my world on a daily basis, in a time when social media was getting out and meeting your neighbors.

But, over the years, they began to all move out. In 1981 or 1982, the Andersons left for someplace to the west of us. They were replaced by the Woodruffs. Their son, Matthew, was two years older than me. He was the coolest thing to enter my life to that point. He had Legos and was always experimenting with creative ways to build new things. He had an Atari and had bootleg ROMS of games. He was so smart and taught me to think in an innovative fashion. I wish I could find him on Facebook to let him know that. He left in 1985, I think, after his mother died of cancer. They moved to Indiana, out west. I can still smell that house, and hear that door-bell. I can still see Matt's stoic face. By the time we got to middle school, he was two years older than me. Then he was gone.

During the Woodruff years, the Meaks moved out and Ms. Hamilton and her sons moved in. At some point the Stricklands left. They also went west, but south, too, I think. No contact with them since whenever they left. They were replaced by a childless couple.

One by one they left. Sometime in high school the Kings left. And then the Stoudts left. By the time I was in college, I was the only person who was invested in my street. New families came in with kids who were babies when I was a pre-teen. It just wasn't the same.

And here I am with Facebook. I will tag this note with all sorts of people, in the hopes they could put me in touch with some of the people. Is it worth revisiting the past? For me, I think it is. I'm the son of a family that moved here from England, so I don't have many roots here. At times that just feels incredibly lonely, because I'm also cut off from any roots I'd have in England.

I have never felt as home as I do here in Charlottesville. I own my house. I have children here, and their mother and I are pledged to raising them together to be great kids. I have a great job that enriches me each and every day.

And, I am fortunate to live in a day where I can tag the people who might know more about this. If you've read this far, I hope you'll respond and maybe we can create a shared history of our childhood together, even though we might not have always been in touch.

And, even if you weren't part of that childhood, I'd ask my Charlottesville friends to maybe chime in with something from their youth. What was your neighborhood like? Are the friends you made when you were young still in your life, or have you moved on?




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