Life branches out

Change turns mem­o­ries into cher­ished trea­sures

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Gary Smith Gary Smith is a re­cov­er­ing jour­nal­ist liv­ing in Rogers.

Pe­ri­od­i­cally, on the way home from work, I’ll drive by a place where a tree used to be. It’s just off one of the main traf­fic ar­ter­ies of the town I call home. It used to sit on a lit­tle bit of a hill near one of the houses we’ve lived in dur­ing our time in North­west Arkansas. Ex­cept the hill isn’t there any­more, ei­ther. And I’m not sure who lives at that ad­dress, but it hasn’t been us for al­most 15 years.

Back when I was the sort of dad who did that kind of thing and my kids were the right ages and it ac­tu­ally wouldn’t quit snow­ing at Spring­dale’s north­ern city lim­its and not start again un­til Jo­plin, we used to go sled­ding on that hill.

We’d bun­dle every­one up in all the win­ter clothes we could find, and then spend about half an hour with them slid­ing down the hill, me haul­ing the sled back up and them slid­ing down again. Hey, it was big for the kids.

And then we’d go home and have hot cho­co­late, and the next day the snow would melt and every­one would go back to school or work. Not ex­actly Hall­mark mo­ments, but a pretty good time. Part of the col­lec­tion of pretty good times that are my mem­o­ries of my off­spring’s child­hoods.

Time and the loss of other land­marks have dulled my ex­act sense of where that tree was, par­tic­u­larly now that the for­mer two-lane road num­bers five. Where it stood is ei­ther a walk-in clinic or the swim­ming pool of an apart­ment com­plex.

It’s sort of sad it’s not there any­more, but it wasn’t ex­actly a mag­nif­i­cent red­wood and it’s not like ur­ban sprawl has dec­i­mated the tree pop­u­la­tion of our lit­tle cor­ner of the world. In the long run, if I needed a flu shot or an apart­ment to live in, I’d be just as glad for cur­rent cir­cum­stances.

If, as we’re told by a least an episode of “Mad Men,” “nos­tal­gia” comes from the Greek phrase “the ache of an old wound,” well, I’m not re­ally aching, and the only wound was my back from pulling a sled full of kids up an in­cline. And I’m pretty much over that.

How­ever, the Lovely Mrs. Smith and I are part of a large fo­cus group. We’re not from here, but we moved here be­fore the area started its cur­rent rush of con­crete and “tren­di­fi­ca­tion.” So, we’ve been res­i­dents long enough to re­mem­ber things the way they used to be and not long enough to get mad about it.

As I’ve told my fam­ily of­ten enough to earn pre­emp­tive eye rolls, when we first got here, there were more cows than peo­ple in our county. Now it ap­pears there are more mat­tress stores.

And we find our­selves play­ing an ex­tended game of “re­mem­ber when that used to be a (restau­rant, cheap, scary-look­ing ho­tel, car lot, etc.)” any time we drive through the north side of our town.

I’d get all up­set about this, but ac­tu­ally, I kind of like all those big, wide streets. Even if they did take too long to build and should have been started years ear­lier. So, yes, I do get to com­plain about stuff I ac­tu­ally ap­pre­ci­ate.

I also en­joy the bike paths and my bagel op­tions and my food op­tions in general, and con­certs at the AMP and all that new, fun stuff. So to grow too wist­ful about the “good old days,” is to for­get be­ing grid­locked on Busi­ness 71 or el­e­gant din­ing of­ten in­volved the phrase, “you want to Su­per Size that?”

If I fall prey to nos­tal­gia at this point, per­haps it’s not a long­ing for the way things used to be so much as for the way I used to be. Thin­ner. Darker hair. Kids at home, see­ing a lot more of life through the wind­shield rather than in the rear view mir­ror.

When­ever I get a lit­tle misty, I have to re­mind my­self that some­day my chil­dren will be re­mind­ing each other of how they used to throw pen­nies in that foun­tain at the mall or watch con­certs on the hill or … what­ever.

We all have our spots, our magic por­tals to another time. We just have to re­mem­ber the op­por­tu­nity to make those mem­o­ries doesn’t end un­til, well, we do. And then they’ll be­long to some­one else. How­ever, I still miss that tree.

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