My sis and I took a road trip a couple of weeks ago. The impetus was her granddaughter’s high school graduation, but we took the occasion to revisit several places and people we’ve known over the years.
One such place was the small brick home we lived in in Columbus, Georgia. The area was probably a modern development when we lived there, built for the great influx of babies in the post-World War II boom, when, so happy that the War was over AND the Depression was over, people jumped feet first into The Great American Dream of home ownership and big families. Blocks and blocks of homes that would be considered tiny by today’s standards. (Hey, it was more than half a century ago…)
I don’t know what I expected. Either that it was frozen in time or that it was totally destroyed. The reality was somewhere in between.
All the houses are still standing. I looked for the cedar tree I can remember jumping over when I was seven and it was a newly-planted sapling. It was gone, of course, replaced by a palm of some sort.
But the neighborhood was still there. It is now a mix of ethnicities; back in the fifties, such a thing would have been totally Not Allowed To Happen. The houses had long since lost their youth, but most were still in fairly good repair. Nothing seemed to be falling in. We found the hill our brother used to sail down on a scooter of some sort and scare our mom half to death. We found the house my best friend Kathy lived in, around the corner from ours. The grocery store that used to embarrass me by advertising special prices on Kotex in the window was now advertising special prices on Tampax in the window, but it didn’t embarrass me anymore.
Everything was smaller than I remember, but I guess that’s because I was smaller then, too.
What was it that drew me back there, I wondered. What I found was the to-be-expected evolution of a lower-middle-class neighborhood. It looked exactly like I should have expected it to look.
And I realized why it held such a special place in my memory. 4016 Evergreen Street was the last house I lived in where I could pretend our family was normal. We moved from Columbus when I was ten; my military father had been transferred to Macon to serve as an Army advisor to the National Guard there.
Mike, the oldest of us, was fourteen and his fractured childhood was about to boil over. Simone, The Pretty One, was twelve and ready to be discovered by Boys. Adolescence and Rebellion were about to Bust Loose in our household. During the next few years, I pretty much kept my head down and tried to lose myself in whatever book was at hand.
So 4016 Evergreen Street was the last Happy Place of my childhood. That is why it has always called to me; that is why I use it for a password on some websites; that is why I smile a bit when I see it written. That is why I had to go back and look at it again.
It almost makes me feel sorry for my poor pitiful self, losing my Happy Place at ten.
But then I think of children who have never had, for one minute, any place in which they felt safe, or happy, or even well-fed. Children who live with abusive or addicted parents. Children with no books to lose themselves in. Children who live in Aleppo, Syria, or any of a hundred other war-ravaged cities where there is a severe shortage of Happy Places.
And that gives me a bit of perspective. Yes, it is sad to lose your Happy Place at ten years old.
But what a blessing it is to have ever had one.