a conversation with where I grew up...
I am an old town now, my prodigal son, but not so old as you, come back again to walk these streets of your boyhood dreams. I remember well, those dreams of yours. They are buried deep within my bricks and mortar, my proud old pavements, public spaces and secret places...scattered along back alleys, shortcuts, and throughout all your favourite haunts.
And oh my! How you did dream! Using freedom itself, a boy's freedom to come and go, accompanied by no-one except your own sweet imagination, casting your wilderness eyes all about you, upon my comfortable familiarity. For we shared our lonelinesses then, you and I, didn't we? Yet, was I ever so lonely then, as now?
I noticed well when you showed up again - that you are not so lonely, now. Your gaze has less trouble, worry...in its scope. I recognized your footsteps. As if waking me from a long, deep slumber. Like the reverent touch of a respectful friend. I felt your presence stirring my memory. And wondered, were you back here again, looking for the boy you were? The ghosts of his boyhood passing, left their mark upon me, you know - perhaps almost invisible to your eyes....except for the driftwood you took from my Nippissing shores, the names you carved inside the heart of a dead Chippewa creek valley elm, the rounded pebbles taken from my beaches, the flat smooth stones you skipped upon a Sunset beach calm waters, the perfect round stones flung at imaginary Goliaths from a David's sling...and so quickly all those marks went away.
And there are no boys now, to replace that joy. None know me now, like you did, then. But look at me! I am well-preserved still, even lovingly so, for all the freedoms of children. I remain, forever waiting - yet they do not come. Not like before. Most...reside out there, in my hinterland, and only show up gliding down my streets within wheeled chariots, strapped in, eyes upon screens, gazing inward and not at me, driven by guardians. There is no freedom for them...there. Do they dream of freedom at all? For children must know a child's freedom, I think - in order to dream of an adult's.
They do not know me much by foot anymore, or by bicycle. I remember well, that CCM Supercycle of yours. Red it was, with white fenders. And how you took it everywhere, and rode like the wind! or easy, slouched half-sideways and always to the left, like a cowboy. Whether to the schoolyard of Dr. Carruthers elementary school, or the quarter-mile track behind Chippewa high school, or to the Police and Elks playgrounds, down to Memorial Gardens, up and down Main Street, flying down Highway 11 from the very top of Thibeault Hill, or along the crazy up and down footpaths all along Chippewa Creek, or down to swim in the beaver pond hidden there....just at dusk, at twilight time. The choke cherries and pincherries eaten while watching endless freight trains. And yes, even beyond the farthest reaches of Pinewood, or up the Airport Hill road to caddy at the golf course, or even all the way to Champlain Park for a quick swim, and then home again. I remember you on late summer mornings, riding out on Highway 17, to pick ripe blueberries for a cereal breakfast.
Every street, every alley, every shortcut knew those wheels. Gone to Sunday movies at the Odeon, Saturday afternoon matinees at the Capital, the Bay. Gone to baseball games at Sunset beach park, or to Boy Scouts, or any one of hundreds of dozens of others....or just riding aimlessly, easily, absorbing endlessly...the soul of all my geography. Tell me if you know...why do they not do that, now? Why is that not important, anymore? What is it that has become more important, than that freedom? Long have I asked these questions...yet no-one answers. Are they gone forever? Will they never come again? Do they not love me, as you did? For I miss them terribly, as only an old town like me can. I remain, steadfast and strong, silent and patient, in all good faith, ready, willing and able to receive them, just as I did, you.
I can almost feel like a Cinderella - dressed for the ball, but with no place to go. Would it take the wave of a godmother's magic wand? And when you go away again, my old friend - please, tell them of me. Say hello for me. For if children truly are the light of the world, then my streets grow far too dark.