Sunday, June 05, 2005

You Can't Go Home Again, But You Can Visit

I'm currently visiting the town I grew up in. I moved there when I was 4, and moved away to go to college when I was 18. I haven't lived in the town in 30 years. West Boylston is a small Massachusetts town due north of Worcester. It's small and easy-to-miss, but if you've ever driven Route 12 north out of Worcester, you might have noticed it because of the Old Stone Church and the Wachusett Reservoir.

With a growing family, my parents moved four times during those 14 years. First, we lived in a ranch house on Pierce St., in a neighborhood where people' yards backed up against yours. Next, we lived in a Cape with a larger, more private back yard on Goodale St. Then, in '69, during my last week of sixth grade, we moved to a brand new Colonial with a small yard on the other side of town, on Shady Lane (beside the old Mixter School). Finally, we moved to one of the many split levels on Yorktown Road (less than a half mile from our house on Pierce St.). My folks and younger siblings lived there until the early '80s.

Pierce St. has changed shockingly little over the last 40 years. Our old house has been expanded some and has a garage. "Goodale St. has really changed," Dad said. "They're building a lot of new houses up that way." The Cape Code I lived in for most of the '60s had long ago morphed into a Colonial. I'd always approved of that change (not that anyone asked me, but I did!). However, as I drove down Goodale St. today, I was shocked to find that my woods were being torn down.

The first few years we lived on Goodale St., we had the run of the neighborhood. While we sometimes were warned about "strangers," people didn't overprogram and overwatch their kids they way so many parents do now. We were allowed to explore the woods (with a babysitter or parent at first, but, then, later, on our own). There was a dirt road, a picnic area and winding paths. The woods were quiet and green, with a variety of trees, ferns, and flowers. A brook babbled about a 1/4 mile down the dirt road, and a small wooden bridge made the crossing easy. The most dangerous thing in the woods was poison ivy, something I wasn't even allergic to during my childhood (something I more than made up for in my 20s).

I spent many, many hours in the woods, often alone about sometimes with others. We looked for animals, lightning bugs, space aliens, anything a bunch of active, imaginative kids would look for. We had adventures, we ate picnic lunches. I loved the woods. Towards the late '60s, a family built a house in the woods. I guess they owned some amount of the property further back, because, there were times when we just didn't feel welcome there anymore. We still went back that way anyway, but it wasn't quite the same.

And, today, an awful lot of the woods had been clearcut for housing. Part of me almost cried (and I'm really not all that sentimental), but part of me wanted to see if any of that old brook still existed. Maybe we could buy that piece of land and build a house over it. Though, at Massachusetts prices, we don't have enough to build much more than a shed these days...

After driving down Goodale St., I dropped my car back at my folks' apartment house and walked all over the center of town. They live near the reservoir, and I've down that part of the walk dozens of times when I've come back to visit. The water was amazingly glassy this morning, so I took many pictures of the Old Stone Church, the trees, the surrounding hills and their reflections in the water.

Then I headed up lower Goodale St. to Central St. Goodale St. School, where I went to third grade, had been torn down years before and replaced by a ballfield. The metal jungle gym where I'd gotten a concussion in fourth grade was gone ("How many fingers?" asked Mr. Duffy, helping me back to the nurse's office). The huge swings on the playground edge were still there. Right nere the end, on the school side, that's where we talked about the shooting of Robert Kennedy at the end of fifth grade.

Major Edwards Elementary School was at the other end of the playground, and I was there from 4-7 grade. It looks pretty much the same as it did 40 years ago, with really minor additions to the end of one wing and a huge sattelite dish.

The high school was just up the street from the elementary school. I hadn't realized how much the front had changed, or that the lion had been moved. The plaster lion was in bad shape (I took a photo of it, but brought the wrong USB cable so I can't upload it until I get home).

I walked back down Central Street all the way to the Congregational Church. It's still a shady, pleasant walk. The MeatMaster has been replaced by some other butcher shop, and there's an extraordinarly good-smelling bakery in that little plaza. The old Post Office moved out to Route 12 a number of years ago - a kitchen design center is in the old Post Office, surrounded by some surprisingly large trees.

When you visit your old home town, you have a tendency to drive through on quick visits. Take a few minutes and walk around. I was suprised to find some buildings had been added 15 years ago, but I never noticed them until I got out of the car and walked!

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