Three weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending an old friend’s wedding in Phoenix, Arizona. The last time I was in Phoenix was 26 years ago for my grandpa’s wedding. The day after my friend’s wedding Prajna and I drove up to The Verde Valley in Central Arizona. I had lived there from 1970 to 1975 and had not been back there since 1985. It was a pleasant drive north that I had vague images of taking the trip many times as a young kid. I found my way to Clarkdale partly from memory and mostly from Google Maps.
Once in town I knew how to get around. Clarkdale hadn’t changed much. The Methodist Church my dad had served, however, was now a library. We stopped in and I was happy to see it still somewhat resembled a church inside if you knew its past. The foyer had a display by the town’s historical society. There were pages of notes handwritten by a lady I remembered substitute teaching, attending our church and co-authoring a kid’s book that we still have a signed copy of. There was a church pulpit and a list of pastors that included my dad’s name.
After taking a few pictures of the outside of the building I drove down to where my elementary school was. I blogged about it in http://roadwalkermedia.blogspot.com/2011/03/cavernous-corridors.html . There was the building right where I had left it in 1975 at the end of second grade. There was a big sign on it announcing it was for lease. I pulled over and stopped. I got out and was dumbstruck. The lot that surrounded the school where the playground had been was smaller. It had to have shrunk. They must have moved the old roads surrounding in tighter. I looked and remembered how it used to take me what felt like several minutes to run across this playground at full bore. I walked from the car to the building in the time it took me to take just a long breath of air. Looking in the windows I could reach I saw that the corridors were dilapidated, but still enormous. There was no evidence of any playground equipment. Even the concrete base of the slide I watched them put in from my second grade window was not there.
|Clarkdale Elementary School|
I felt a little numb as we drove up Main Street through town. The town’s park was still there. There was still a large gazebo. I turned left and then right and then there was the house I had lived in for five years. The yard was so much smaller now. The front gate I used to cling to was still there. One thing that was larger were two trees that my dad had planted as saplings. They were thirty feet tall now. I had planned on taking pictures here but I didn’t. I didn’t know why. We drove around to the back alley and I looked for where my story of up on the housetop in the sandbox http://roadwalkermedia.blogspot.com/2010/12/up-on-housetop-in-sandbox.htmltook place. The backyards were all fenced in. I turned out of the alley and headed out of town passing the new elementary school on the way.
We drove through the historical town of Jerome, over Mingus Mountain that was covered with snow and down through Prescott. Then we went down out of the mountains and though valleys and hills and finally joined up with Interstate 10. We took that all the way home.
I was eight years old when my life changed. Everyone had been jealous of me when they heard I was moving to Hawaii. For years after moving I wallowed in anger and loneliness. And my thoughts kept fixing on Arizona. If I could only go back everything would be alright. What I didn’t think about was that everything was growing. Life went on without me back there. My best friend and I wrote to each other for years and then stopped. He grew his way and although I didn’t know it I was growing mine. It wasn’t just the trees and the town and my lost friends growing and changing, I was too. And when I stood and looked at my old elementary school a realization hit me. The world will keep on turning and despite any efforts or attitude, time will take you with it. You can refuse to grow up as you get taller and your childhood haunts shrink down. Before you know it the past is a speck in the distance and you can’t grasp it any longer. You open your hand and there might be just a handful of cold gravel from a deserted playground.