I was driving north on Lyndale Avenue. I crossed Interstate 494 running through the southern Twin Cities metro area and all of sudden I wasn’t sure I knew where I was anymore.
That’s not unusual for me, I know.
But this was my old neighborhood, and it didn’t look the same as I remembered.
I was in town with my eldest son for a basketball tournament and had dropped him at his hotel for a shower and short nap. It was just a mile or so from where I grew up, so I thought to take a walk down my old street. I saw a Chipotle restaurant where I thought there had been a superette — the one where I returned glass pop bottles I’d found in the trash outside businesses in a nearby strip mall for enough change to buy some candy and a can of grape soda.
I felt a little foolish over my disorientation, but I was by myself. No one would have to know. I plugged in the GPS and the voice, impatient over her constant rescuing, told me to turn left on 76th Street.
When I reached my corner, I wasn’t surprised that my house, with the cream colored stucco and brown wood trim, was gone. I knew it had been razed years ago in the name of progress and replaced with a multi-family dwelling stretching the half-block that had been my side of the street throughout my grade school years. The other half of the block was, back then, a decent enough sized tree grove to shield our neighborhood from the high speed traffic racing down Interstate 35W and to give me a place to climb and hide when I just didn’t feel like being part of the world.
Now there was no wooded grove. Only a tall wooden wall, covered in lush green vines, wanting me to believe there was not a pulsing highway just on the other side.
The Airplane Tree, where I could sit lost for hours, was gone.
As I knew it would be.
Across the street, things hadn’t changed much. Oh, Mr. Lindner’s house was for sale. And the Hoynes, if that’s who still live there, took down their fence and put in a giant deck. But they were still the same small bungalows and ramblers all lined up the same as though Emerson Avenue cut straight down the middle between what was and what will be.
I drove a few blocks to the north and the east, to another neighborhood where I lived before this, one where my childhood home was still standing. I walked the length of the street a couple of times, until the neighborhood watch started twitching at my stopping and staring at houses, remembering the families who lived there, games of Kick-the-Can in the alley at night, the boy across the street who hung the May basket on my door. I like to believe it was for my sister.
The house that had the star in the window, telling us kids that we could always run there if we sensed some sort of danger lurking, now had an ADP Security sign in the yard, discouraging me from stepping to close the grass. I wondered what old Mrs. Fogey was really thinking when she used to walk down her sidewalk pointing her cane at no one in particular warning, “I will prosecute!” And there, across the street from my old house, was perhaps the smallest on the block, but home to sixteen children. Well, fifteen, after that bicycle accident that taught all of us why you don’t ride side by side on a busy street.
I got back in my car and drove to Apple Lane, the inscrutable world on the other side of 66th Street, where we had been warned never to walk. The place always held such great mystery for me, staged off limits as it was. The GPS scolded me harshly for my transgression. As I wound around its curving path I found Apple Lane to be just another neighborhood, a lot like mine. It was a winding but benign little avenue and I realized it was the act of crossing such a busy street to get there that would have given my mother pause.
After mispronouncing my childhood street names miserably, the GPS finally sighed and blurted, “Recalculating!”
I sighed back. Yeah, me too.
I don’t know how to age
a tree, without cutting it open
to count the rings.
This tree in front of the tan house,
taller than its two stories,
is it older than me?
Did it once watch my yellow hair,
my skinny legs grow,
and cover me while I drank
Kool Aid in July
and tried to decide
whether to follow
or my sister
around that day.
There in front of my childhood home stood an enormous tree I didn’t know whether to remember or not. It prompted this poem, which was featured this morning in Every Day Poems. (Are you subscribing yet? For just $2.99 you can have poetry delivered to your breakfast table every weekday. It could change you, for the price of pocket change.)