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this used to be my town

When I was growing up, it wasn’t entirely unusual for my parents to randomly tell us how things had changed in our town.  We are a fairly settled family, with both of my parents having done their growing up in Fredericksburg or one of the surrounding counties.  We mostly all still live here, including aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides.  Every now and then we raise a wanderer, but it’s unusual.   So when my parents say the town has grown, they know firsthand what they’re talking about.

Mary Washington. This used to be the Hospital. I was born here. Now there’s a massive new Hospital complex, which they call a campus. It’s way big.

Most of their comments involved Route 1, probably because we lived in the same neighborhood right off of it since I was in third grade.  When my parents were kids, Route 1 was still, as my Dad would say, “the mainest most road between Florida and Maine.”  Interstate 95 was still a toddler then, and I can well imagine that Fredericksburg was a different place.

What’s especially interesting to me, is that when I was a kid I used to think it was kind of a silly thing to care about.  One of them would say, sometimes in that far-away voice that memories tend to give you, “All of this used to be fields and farms and woods.  There were trees up and down this road for as far as the eyes could see.”  Me: “Oh, really?  That’s…neat.”  My attitude was, things change – of course it’s different!

My perspective slowly altered, as it does when you grow older, and I came to feel the impact of the alterations to my hometown.  Our town was still growing.  Through my pre-teens I had more of a sense of wonder about it.  My fixation seemed to center on Route 208, which is a road we traveled often, to get  to my Aunt and Uncle’s house or my Nannie’s.  When I was young, it seemed to take forever to get to her house from ours, on that long country road that I can still picture in my mind.  208 turned out to be my wooded lane of memory, for slowly but surely, it too was cleared and developed.  What was once a tree-lined, 4 lane highway, is now 6 lanes in most places and nearly wall-to-wall with businesses and subdivisions.

Victoria Theater.  This building used to house a movie theater, and it’s where I saw my first movie ever. I think it was The Fox and The Hound. Now it’s owned by a church. I don’t think many one-screen theaters exist anymore. I can think of three, but they’re few and far between.

The biggest shock to my system occurred when I went away to college.  It seemed like every time I came back, things had taken place that I wasn’t aware of.  I would get lost driving down what used to be familiar roads.  It was no longer sufficient to be told, “Take the landfill road and turn right at the big intersection.” Roads had widened and everything  was different.  The big intersection was now a huge  intersection, unrecognizable to me.  And new subdivisions were popping up everywhere, which brought new roads to contend with.

Who gave them permission to make changes while I was gone?  My feelings at that time were more of frustration, and irritation.  Entire roads were not where I left them!  It was like coming home and finding that strangers had re-arranged all your furniture, without leaving so much as a note of explanation.

Walker Grant. This is where I went to middle school. Such an old building! We outgrew it by 7th grade, and my 8th grade class was the first to move up to the high school. I don’t even know what they use the building for now.

And now…

I’m finding that, oddly enough, I feel surprised by how much more has changed.  I’m trying to put my finger on what it was that I expected.  I guess the younger me felt that, “of course things are going to change.  Up to a certain point.  And then that’s it.”  The view I had of my hometown in those younger years, the really impressionable years when I was turning into myself, is the view I carry with me.  Fredericksburg when I was 16, 17, 18 – that was my Fredericksburg.  I owned this town.  Therefore it was, and I suppose will always be, for me, the ideal Fredericksburg.  That is how it was supposed to stay.

Is that how my parents felt? Do they still feel that way?

James Monroe. This is my high school. Except that when I went there, it was all on one level, and much closer to the road, and an entirely different building.

As I was driving around my hometown this week, I was reminiscing.  So many things to remember: riding the school bus, skipping the career aptitude tests and going to Old Mill Park instead (maybe I should have stuck around for that one), breaking my leg in middle school, singing a very uncomfortable solo in the high school musical, spending the night at Margaret’s, children’s theater, going across the street to smoke on hospital grounds because you couldn’t on the high school campus (I am now a non-smoker), the Purina building, football games at Maury, the mural in the hallway at Hugh Mercer Elementary, cruising town, Tri-County Pavilion (oh, the dancing! so much fun), swimming in the river, Skate Land…

Old Mill Park. It may look like a big grass field to you, but it looks like happy memories to me. Among other things, this is where Toni and Margaret taught Jessi’s little brother to say shit. “I say ‘sh’ and you say ‘it’. That’s not cussing.” He was about 8 or 9. Jessi was not happy. I had nothing to do with it! Swear.

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Rappahannock Regional Library. Before we had the internet (gasp!), there were things called libraries. This is the Library, and I used to go there to do research for school papers. Sometimes I would check out books just to read them. Did you know they used to make books out of paper? It’s true!

Some things are simply gone.  We no longer have an A&P or a Safeway, no Kmart lunch counter that was such a treat when we were kids, no Woolworth’s or Roses Department Store.  One of the original movie theaters just got too old and too small, and it’s now a shopping strip.  They used to have a drive-in theater, and I can remember seeing the movies on that gigantic screen as you’d drive by.  That theater is where we saw Platoon; I’ll never forget that.  And we went to Dirty Dancing 3 weeks in a row when they started dollar Wednesdays in an effort to drum up some business.  One night we saw Prince of Darkness and then went to Baby Boom right after, because we were too chicken to only see the scary one, much less as the late movie.  Memories, memories.

For Sale. A high school friend of mine used to live here. It’s interesting how many different areas of a city (or multiple cities) that you get familiar with. You run those streets for a time and get to know them like the back of your hand. And then, for various reasons, you don’t go there anymore. It’s weird to think that the place still exists, new people move in and out, life goes on there, even though you no longer get to witness it happening. Even though you are no longer there.

Happily, there are some things that never change.  The one way streets and one ways that turn into two ways and back into one ways – all those old familiar twists and turns came back to me so quickly.  Familiar is good.  A little bit of familiar goes a long way toward making the new more palatable.  Downtown is still the same, with its red brick sidewalk and historic buildings next to office buildings next to churches next to museums next to banks next to “antique malls”.  I guess my town is still in there…I just have to know where to dig.

Carl’s has been around for-ever (since 1947, anyway). Any trip to my hometown has to include a trip to Carl’s. This is a place that holds on to your memories for you – you came here as a kid, you take your kids to Carl’s, then your grandkids…You can count on Carl’s to be there.

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Well…maybe the prices have changed. But they still only take cash. I checked . It was strictly research for this post. Really. So was the shake. Delicious research. I did it for you. You can thank me later.

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Skip on over:

Hometown Tourist – getting out and about in my hometown

I’m with the Band! – a night downtown (and also, not so “Dead Fred”)

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beverly Wood #

    Skippingstones,
    This was a wonderful story. I often hear the family talk about ‘what used to be’ and can only imagine how great growing up there was. However, your ‘older’ cousins have often said that ‘they owned this town’! Good thing it was further back in the day until you, the new owner, came along. lol I wonder who ‘owns this town’ now? haha!
    I grew up in a much smaller town of South Boston where you could ride your bike to the skating rink, your dad could just drop you off to work at the Farmer’s Market when you were 12 years old, you could go door to door selling the walnuts you picked up just to buy candy, and JJ Newberry’s was your favorite 5&dime store to go to and spend your ‘summer’ allowance and get a banana split at the lunch counter!
    So, I guess you can say that I share the same feelings that you have in regards to ‘this used to be my town’. It is very interesting how the feelings are so much the same even though the towns are so different. We are getting older and our days of youth shared the same ‘whatever’ feelings about some things our parents would comment on but we catch ourselves now making those same ‘back in the day’ comments about how things used to be.
    I loved this story! Can’t wait to read another one!

    Thanks for sharing!!

    June 25, 2011
    • Hi Beverly! Thank you for sharing, too! It’s very exciting to have my family come visit me here. This is like my baby – you want people to ooh and awe over it a bit, no matter how ugly it is. lol

      When we were kids, we lived in the apartments and we pretty much ran all over that place. On the one hand, both my parents worked there, so I guess everyone knew us, and I imagine there were plenty of eyes on us whether we were aware of it or not. On the other hand, I do believe that my parents pretty much never really knew where we were. I was sitting for the baby a few weekends ago and Peyton was out longer than I expected. Once I got that feeling, boy, I had that phone dialing. (Cell phones pay for themselves in that kind of situation.) Now let’s go back to when I missed the bus in the 8th grade or so. There was some kind of emergency happening at the apartments, a busted water main or something, and my Mom couldn’t come get me. So I waited. And waited. Hours I waited. But I didn’t call, because I was that kid – she said she couldn’t come, so I didn’t call back and bother her again. Eventually, a friend of mine came to the door looking for me around 5:30 or so. Momma said, “I thought she was with you.” So yeah, not so much on top of where the kids were. I try to bring this story up about once a year.

      I did think about my older cousins (no need to put older in quotations – lets just tell it like it is! Haha!) when I was writing this. I guess I’m lucky there was anything left; I get the impression that they pretty much tore that town up. 🙂 In any case, I was thinking just what you said, that they would have said the same thing. And I thought about Logan, getting his license this year, his first job and earning some money of his own. When I turned 16, I was outta there! If my parents didn’t know where I was on foot, how less so on wheels? But it’s only right that each of us should have our turn. Am I wrong? That’s a rhetorical question. I know I’m right. 😉

      Thanks for the chat, Beverly. I love you dearly, miss princess! Please come see me again.

      Michelle

      June 25, 2011
  2. Bill Wood #

    Dear Cousin,

    I knew you were an excellent photographer, but had no idea you wrote so well. I really enjoyed this blog and can truly relate. I remember when they were building 95 and taking the bus down Lafayette to go to the Genny shop on Saturdays. Enough reminiscing, I loved your story.

    Love Ya,

    Bill

    June 25, 2011
    • Yeah, well…I’m multi-talented. 🙂

      Actually, I think this post is more like talking, and remembering. You know I have a real talent for gum flapping, lol. I do think our family is full of talented people, though. But I’m really glad you liked it. I think that’s the thing for me, is that I do want people to be able to relate to what I’m talking about. Even more than that, it’s exciting to evoke some emotion or thought in another person. It is enough that some little thing I wrote down prompted your own memories. And like with Beverly’s comment, the reader response opened up even more memories inside of me. We feed each other.

      I’m super glad you took the time to send me a note – I really appreciate it. You guys made my morning! My phone told me when you commented; I was at work, and I was smiling the whole rest of my shift. I couldn’t wait to get home so I could say thanks. (Oh, by the way, Thanks!)

      I love, love, love you two and miss you!

      Michelle

      June 25, 2011
  3. Where is your ‘Press This’ button? This deserves to be Freshly Pressed!

    June 25, 2011
    • Thank you, you are so nice to say that!

      I didn’t know what that button was for, lol. I guess I’ll add that one to the list. Haha, I don’t guess – I am going to add it.

      June 25, 2011
  4. I think you put your finger on it- the town of our memories was “ours”, and therefore ideal. I currently live one town over. This used to be a sweet little town with a real Main Street, a center for the farming community that supported it. Little by little Chicago sprawl has swallowed it. We used to have a real hardware store in the center of town. A tiny pharmacy, a grocery store- all gone. We still have a feed store! Thank goodness for that. And I am terrifically grateful for our forest preserve district, which has been buying up land and weaving a green corridor to save us all. No matter how bad it gets, we have a place to escape the concrete, the glass, the ubiquitous shopping strip.

    June 25, 2011
    • Where I live now is still kind of like that – it has the tiny little main street with all the government buildings, a Dollar General, a restaurant, a real hardware store, etc. We’re in the country still, but certain parts of this area are starting to grow, too, with the huge subdivisions of massive houses on tiny lots.

      Fredericksburg is currently being swallowed up by DC. This city is clinging to its identity as a colonial town and civil war battlefield, even as it outgrows itself in leaps and bounds. When I was young, Washington was an hour and about two worlds away. Today it takes longer to get there, but it’s closer than ever. What are you going to do? Just appreciate what we have. I bought a pass that will get me into all of the museums and sites downtown. I get to go at my own pace, no expiration date. So that’s what I’m going to do. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to do it, but better late than never.

      June 25, 2011
  5. Albo #

    I’m so glad i’m not alone!!! for the last few months it has really bothered me!! all of the building & adding on to the college makes it look like we’re a “college town” i know the college has been there forever, but when they tore up “the strip” i was just heart broke!!! jaime also feels your pain bout the high school! for the last 2-3 years she has rode around with a brick in the trunk of her car she picked out the rumble!!

    June 25, 2011
    • I know! I was thinking about Mary Washington, about how it used to be a “mere college”. I had it in my notes, but it didn’t make the final cut. I also had cruising town in my mind in relation to all that college construction. I should have put that one in the little memories section, but I forgot!

      I knew I liked Jaime! I wish I had a brick rolling around in my trunk from JM. That’s so a thing I would do. Somewhere in my car is a golf ball that I let Logan take from the minigolf place, from when I took the kids on vacation a million years ago. But I’ve already talked about how “things” are my memories. Like you said, I’m always glad to find out I’m not the only one.

      June 25, 2011
  6. rebecca page #

    Strange that we grew up in the same home, and have completely different memories!! I remember Mom and Dad talking about what used to be, but I held onto their “fun” memories. You know, about how the roads had so little traffic they could race on them kinda stuff. I don’t remember the K-Mart lunch counter, but I remember Mom talking about it. I remember running loose all over the apartments and those woods behind them that seemed endless back then and are just a thin strip of trees. And I had a map of FBG in my car because I could get in, but never out with all those one way streets. And I had no idea you were born at Mary Wash, I was born in Richmond. I lost my first baby in old Mary Wash though. Amanda and Peyton were born at the new building, which I guess isn’t new now. Funny how I still think of it as the new building.
    Down town is Logan’s stomping grounds. Wonder what Amanda’s will be.
    And for the record, I believe my parents knew exactly where we where at all times!! Mom left me places. She perfected the surprised expression and the “oh, I thought she was (insert a good story here)” Remember when she left me at Nichols, when it was where the Pharmore, no, thrift store, no Hard Times is now. As I recall, you made her come back and get me. I know every time I was someplace I shouldn’t be, my Dad sure did know!! And the other night when you let Peyton walk to Grafton, didn’t I call and ask about things? I had Momdar on and knew he was loose and scamming Auntie.

    June 30, 2011
    • So…what you’re telling me is that she tried to leave me on purpose. I knew she was trying to get rid of you. But this is different! Excuse me for a moment while I re-evaluate my entire childhood…

      Okay, where was I?

      I think I’m just a nostalgic person in general. I remember a lot of the fun stories, but I was feeling particularly nostalgic when I wrote that piece (and when I was running around town last week). I thought the same thing about those trees – every now and then, I’ll be on Rt 1 and look up at the top of that hill, and remember when the whole hill was nothing but orange dirt and rocks, but that strip of trees seemed as wide as…I don’t know what. But it was bigger back then. I’m sure of it. And I also still think of Mary Washington as new. I guess it will be until they build the next one :). Also, Momdar, Allison was born there too. Have you forgotten about her already? Do you know where your baby is? (Hardy-har, I crack me up)

      As far as Auntie scamming, that’s part of the fun. Every now and then, as an aunt, you just have to say, “Okay, but don’t tell your mother.” And if they tell, you can always say you just didn’t know any better. Better yet, blame it on the kids entirely. I’ve never done that myself, but I’m just sayin’. Last time she was at my house, I can’t count the number of times that Amanda said, “My Mommy said I can.” There are things that I believe, things I choose to believe, and things that I know for a fact are not true. For those, I would say, “Oh, does she? Does your Mommy let you do that?” And Amanda would answer, “No.” Dry as a bone. I can’t help but laugh.

      June 30, 2011
  7. Jacque M #

    You all are so funny – This is my town, and don’t ever forget it. I was born and raised here a long time ago and can put your memories to shame. I have just been thinking about this very subject.

    The “library” is where I went to school, of course that was after Maury, which is now an art studio or something. I worried that it would fall in on itself before the city did something to save it. I remember getting in trouble in the first grade, one of many such incidents, I took a little girl’s hair ribbon, I just could not keep my eyes and it seems, my hands off of it. Then there was the incident with the big, (I mean that sucker was huge – to borrow Peyton’s term) slide. Who knows why they put that big old thing right in the sun anyway.

    OMG to think of the changes. When we came back home after living in Richmond, I was taking my father to get their car inspected and I kept saying – when did that subdivision get there and how long has that subdivison been there? My dad said, “Girl, they got subdivisions now where they didn’t even have places before.” I knew exactly what he meant.

    Every now and then I drive by the two houses we lived in before we moved to the country. I want so badly to go back in time, just to walk through them one more time as they were then. I can hardly bear to think about the memories. The halloween my brother, my cousin and I dressed up and went out trick or treating in three different costumes. OH! the loot we had. I remember the big house on the gigantic hill where my candy bag handle broke and Bodie laughed at all my candy spilling out and the lady making him pick it all up.

    The smell of creosote always reminds me of hide and seek, because we hid our face up against the telephone pole and counted. I could go on and on,

    One of my cherished memories is the Peoples (bought out or turned into CVS) on Caroline Street, now one of those antiques places. My mom would take me there when she shopped (this was before the mall, before Park and Shop) and I would get a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. I remember I made my first layaway there, for fifty cents every two weeks (my allowance) I purchased a big, blue teddy bear. It cost $2.50 and I faithfully paid my fifty cents until it was mine. I was about seven years old.

    Down on further was Lafayette school, now the library. I went there in the third and half of the fourth grade. For some reason, I don’t recall being in trouble there, not like first grade.

    On Lafayette Blvd, there was a High’s store, no more of them anymore either. If we were really good, we got an ice cream cone after Church on Sunday. I remember the Park Service Cemetery and Dead Man’s Curve. We used the cemetery as our personal play ground. The vines behind the brick wall were our trampoline and we tumbled down to Hazel Run to play in the water. We had so many places to play like that. We left home on a summer morning and had to be back in the house when the street lights came on. Woe be unto you if you weren’t.

    Enough, enough, I don’t have time and can’t afford the emotion right now to keep on.

    June 30, 2011
    • I haven’t said “Dead Man’s Curve” in forever – even the things we say, what we call things, can fall by the wayside. So, you’re the one who has passed on the nostalgic gene! I guess I knew it already.

      I didn’t know that the library used to be a school, much less that you had gone there. Maybe you told me before, and I just don’t remember. And you may be right about being old and stuff (that’s what you meant, right?) – you had it first, so I guess the rest of us will stand in line behind you.

      What’s the most interesting to me is that we all had different experiences in different areas of the city, that feel entirely unique and personally important, and yet…. We are all feeling the same emotions. At least that’s what it seems like to me. Jaime is carrying around a brick in her trunk – a reminder of what was, a reminder of her youth, a remembrance of buildings that no longer exist, a memory. Aren’t we all doing that in our own ways?

      More and more, I am finding that this blog is my brick. And not just the posts I write, but our comments, the conversations, the queries, the record of our existence. It has provided me with something to cling to, a place to keep my memories. Feel free to latch on.

      June 30, 2011
  8. Tammy #

    Love it! And you so wonderfully stated how we all feel about the change in F’burg and Spotsy!

    August 10, 2011
    • Hi Tammy! Thanks for reading it and commenting. I suppose change is inevitable, and where would we be without it. Still…look at all the responses on Facebook. We miss the things that fall by the wayside, don’t we?

      August 10, 2011

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