Life branches out
Change turns memories into cherished treasures
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.