They haven’t changed that logo in 25 years. Which my sister and I explained to the nice, young librarian who came over to check on the women cackling at the sign-up table. We’re not crazy, I assure you, just nostalgic. OG summer readers, right here.
Three years ago, I relocated for work, moving within a few hours’ drive of the area where I grew up. In high school, we moved west to Las Vegas, then I went to college in New Orleans and stayed for over a decade. Suddenly, I was back on the East Coast, with its greenery and its hills, its towns overlapping towns overlapping towns. In NOLA, visiting a nearby city took the better part of a day’s drive. Now, I was passing familiar sites regularly and getting to hang out with family that I hadn’t seen in years. We didn’t take the opportunity to visit as much as we should have, but before heading off on our cross-country journey we did one last whirlwind tour.
Since I’ve also just turned 35, I suppose I’ve been a bit nostalgic. Numbers have little to do with it – it’s more like I’ve only recently felt like a true adult. Reality has shocked us all lately, like a plunge into icy water. The world’s on a perilous path and it's time our generation took the wheel, in a mad bid to hopefully maybe get things back on track before it’s too late. Or maybe this is finally the urge to “settle down,” to carve out some small corner of the world where you can catch an occasional breath. We’re all just doing the best we can and – hey! – that’s exactly what our parents did. The fact that they gave their kids so many reasonably idyllic years is amazing when you think about it. Objective history might say otherwise, but to my child’s mind, the 80s and 90s were damn good times.
First up on the last-minute visits was Sandbridge Beach. South of the more heavily-trafficked Virginia Beach, it’s a narrow spit of land with two parallel streets, a small shopping area, and block after block of brightly colored beach houses. Every summer my mom’s side of the family rented a house, gathering all the cousins together for a week of sand-crusted mischief. Remarkably, it’s largely unchanged. There are condos at either end and the firehouse that hosted bingo night has gotten an upgrade, but it’s still the town that I remember. The claw machine that took our quarters every summer is still outside the market – though it’s out of order now.
Driving down Sandpiper with the windows down brought back a whole host of memories. The towels and bathing suits hanging up to dry on every railing. The way the dunes burn and suck at your feet as you slog toward firmer sands. The crabs burrowing. Even the smell of the changing rooms, disturbing as that might be. I think we even passed the balcony where we’d all danced the “Macarena” for passing traffic.
I’m trying to remember all of this. The older I get, the more it slips away. That’s the way of things, I know. But I remember Mom dislocating both of her shoulders when she was hit by a wave. I remember being evacuated during Hurricane Emily and thinking that it was super-cool that we got to spend a night in a school. There were the magazines that my cousin and I wrote and passed around to our family, the yearly treasure hunts organized by Aunt Sue, the way the adults would bring their chairs to the water line to watch us boogie-board.
I’m glad I got to visit again, glad I got to bring Bobby. There’s even talk of doing it again, of renting a house with my sister and cousins one summer. I certainly have an adult’s appreciation for how quiet and untouched it is. Plus, this time it’d be us in the chairs enjoying bottled, grown-up fun. Must make this happen. Someday.
The day before we left for Oregon, my mother and sister flew back to the East Coast. Mom now lives in Reno, NV and Meg is in Los Angeles. I made the drive up to meet them at Dulles (Bobby stayed behind to finish packing, like a champ) and, after an appropriately old-school breakfast at Cracker Barrel, we hit up our childhood home town. It's suburban more than anything, but there were more comforting small-town elements than I remembered.
Cruising down Reisterstown Road was a trip in itself, from the highway exits that I never got the chance to drive, past the cool record store and the movie theater where I had my first date (William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet), the bookstore where that cute guy worked, the place where my parents bought their minivan, the studio where we took dance lessons, the middle school where they also happened to film Cry Baby. As we were short on time, all of these memories were sampled at speed and I'm so glad we were all there together to point out the changes and laugh.
Our house is smaller than I remembered. The neighborhood's older, too. Again, I'm thankful that my parents lodged us firmly in that middle class life. Then there's that special "Xennial" sweet spot, where we got to have an analogue childhood and a digital adolescence - or whatever that new-fangled definition is. We ran amok, played outside nearly every night, walked a mile uphill in the snow to get a Happy Meal... (blah, blah, blah. Get off my lawn before I hit you with my cane.) Anyway, it was sweet. Lots of those kids have kids now. And jobs and houses and cute dogs. Glad of that. Thanks, Facebook.
Another unexpected photo-op stop came at the local library. Despite the swelling 'burbs around it, there is still a core "old town" section of Reisterstown. It occurs to me that, given the subject of my current project, having the library next to an historic cemetery might have left a mark. On the one hand, you have weathered gravestones and, just over the wall, a child's first gateway to the wide world. Even more overpowering was the smell. They haven't upgraded. It's still the same old shelves, the same scanners on the doorway, the same damn logo for the summer reading club. Like everything else, it's smaller than I remembered, the selection can't be great, but when I was a kid, this place was everything. Plowing through the young adult section, the whole encyclopedia phase (obscure animal trivia!), the crackle of those protective book covers... mmm, yes.
And then my sister excitably tells the librarian that my first book is coming out and - while I'm hiding behind her hissing things like "...editorial!" and "...chickens not hatched!" - he gives her instructions on how to get it added to the library catalogue. She's a good sister, that one.
While we're on the roller coaster of emotion, there's also the bittersweet. My mom's middle sister is in an assisted living facility - and kicking cancer's ass, I might add. Even in the hospital, she's always bubbly Aunt Sue. It's been a while since my mom could make the trip back, so this was their first time seeing each other in years. Both of them lit right up. Sisterly connection is a beautiful thing. I'm glad Mom got to stay a few days to hang out with her and her other sister, Aunt ML. Now that Mom has a shiny, new hip, maybe this can be a more regular thing.
Then there was the stop by my father's grave. We got there right as they were closing for the day, but my sister and I remembered the location with surprising accuracy. She did bring up the question of whether or not he even wanted to be buried in a veteran's cemetery. I hadn't thought of that. His days in Vietnam weren't something he ever talked to us about. He wasn't particularly soldierly - I don't even know what he did there. Despite that new train of thought, I'm not as freaked out by the cemetery as I used to be. I don't actually believe that anything's lingering in this particular spot. (How horrifying a thought is that, anyway? Please, please cremate me.) I just tend to roll up and shoot the shit. One time shared a smoke. I think he'd appreciate that. Wish I'd gotten to see if he really did share my twisted outlook. That's where I assume it comes from, anyway.
Have we had enough with the emotions, yet? I have... or at least I'm about to go try and pour them into something else. It's taken me a week to catch up with everything, to shake the feeling of exhaustion from the mad, cross-country dash. But this was definitely the right choice. Holy shit.
It's beautiful here in Oregon. I'll forever be grateful to my parents and my family for creating such a nurturing environment, but it's time to make my own future. Who knew that was a thing?