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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
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.
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”)