Sunday, October 23, 2011

All Wet

I have lived virtually my entire life in Michigan, surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes.  We have more miles of shoreline here than any other state, except Alaska, and an awful lot of it is really nice, sandy beaches.  The town I grew up in was right on the shore of Lake Huron, and for a couple years, we lived in a house which had Lake Huron as its back yard.  While we lived there, it was a pretty good working model of Heaven.

In my hometown, we would go down to the beach pretty much whenever school wasn't in session, roughly from early June until the end of August.  A really warm weekend in May might coax a few hardy souls into the water, but you couldn't really count on the lake being warm enough to swim in, that early in the season.  September was similar - you might get a weekend warm enough to head down to the beach, but once football season started, we were usually otherwise occupied.

(Once Jen and I were on a 'getaway weekend' at a B&B on Lake Michigan; it was a lovely weekend in April, and a warm breeze was blowing in off the lake.  We took a leisurely, romantic walk along the beach, and as the waves lapped gently onto the sand, we thought it would be fun to let the water roll over our toes as we walked.  But then, in April, it's only been a couple weeks since all that majestically beautiful water was ice.  And 35-degree water has a decidedly un-romantic effect on the toes; not for nothing do we speak of taking cold showers to, um, cool our ardor)

Now, Lake Huron, at least where I grew up, was typically around 65 degrees during the summer months, but we counted anything much above 60 as eminently swimmable.  If you really had your heart set on getting wet, you might wade into water in the upper 50s, but you didn't stay in for very long.

I had a friend who grew up in Marquette, Michigan, on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Now, Lake Superior is COLD. . .  Really, REALLY cold. . . C-O-L-D.  The old quips about the balls on a brass monkey, or witches' mammary glands, or well-diggers' backsides, were really invented with Lake Superior in mind.  Folks in Marquette, my friend told me, don't really go swimming much, at least not in the big lake; it's just too cold.  But even so, everyone in town listens to their radio all summer long, waiting for the one glorious day in August when the weatherman comes on the radio to tell them that the water temperature is above 50 degrees, and then, like a civic ritual, the whole town goes down to the beach and swims, until they can't feel their toes anymore.  Which takes about a minute or two.

When Jen and I were on our honeymoon, we were driving along a lightly travelled road in the UP (when it comes to the UP, 'lightly travelled' means a car might or might not have come by in the last 24 hours; a story is told of an old Yooper who pulled up and moved to Alaska when he started seeing neighbors once a week or so; it was just getting too darn crowded. . .), and we happened upon a lovely beach.  I pulled the car off the road, directly onto the beach, we changed into our swimsuits right there in the open air, and ran into the lake for a quick dip (Jen still refers to this as her first serious act of marital submission, as I insisted that she not miss out on the experience).  When I go into Lake Superior, I will wade in slowly, giving my feet and legs time to go numb get used to the water; usually by the time I'm knee-deep, I can look into the crystal-clear water and see two strikingly white things that look suspiciously like my feet, as all the blood has by then retreated to warmer places.  At that point, one should either just jump in and get totally immersed, or call it day and get out of the water; trying to slowly wade in past the, uh, T-bag line is an exercise in masochism. . .

I set a goal for myself, when I was in my teens, to swim in all five Great Lakes - full immersion; wading in knee-deep doesn't count.  And I'm happy to say that I achieved that goal, before my 30th birthday.  Since Lake Ontario is the only one of the Great Lakes that doesn't lap onto the shores of the state of Michigan, we had to make a special point of vacationing at a cottage in Grimsby, Ontario (from whence the Toronto skyline is visible across the lake on a clear day), in order to collect Lake Ontario (and Niagara Falls, while we were at it) (no, I did not get 'fully immersed' in Niagara Falls); and thus did I duly accomplish my goal.  So I expanded my goal to include both of the oceans that wet the shores of the United States.


I added the Atlantic Ocean to my collection when our family went to Florida for spring break, more than 20 years ago.  The proximate cause for our trip was to meet my 'first mother', after not having seen or heard from her in more than 20 years.  But we had a standing offer from my aunt, who lived on Florida's Gulf coast, to stay with her, so we took her up on that, and we had a great time.

When we left Michigan, it was 35 degrees, and a gray, dreary rain was falling.  As we drove southward on I-75, the air got warmer with each passing mile; by the time we were in Kentucky, the grass was green.  By Georgia, we saw flowers blooming in the red clay soil.  We stopped at the little 'Welcome to Florida' rest stop just across the Florida line, for a complimentary cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice, and 2F (who was about four at the time), spying a palm tree, spontaneously ran over and laid a big friendly hug on it.  By the time we arrived at our destination, south of Tampa, it was 85 degrees, and we felt like we were really getting one over on the Universe.

The next day, it was another delightfully sunny, 85-degree day, and we announced our intention to go swimming.  My aunt chuckled, and said that we'd probably be the only ones in the water, since the locals didn't get in the water in March.  Undeterred, we drove down to the beach, on one of the keys (a 'key' in Floridian geography is a geographic entity somewhere between a sand-spit island and a glorified sand-bar), and, as my aunt had predicted, we had the entire beach virtually to ourselves.  For miles in either direction, we saw nary another human soul beside ourselves.

And what a beach!  The beaches on the Great Lakes are nice - brown sand, with patches of tall grass appearing here and there.  But this beach on the Gulf coast of Florida was the most amazing beach I'd ever seen (still is, as far as that's concerned) - fine, white sand, the consistency of flour, stretched as far as the eye could see, and gave the water itself a greenish hue unlike anything we see in Michigan.  It was simply spectacular.

Although, the idea (which ocean-dwelling-types just take for granted) of having to take a shower after swimming, just seemed wrong.  I get the whole thing about not wanting to walk around with a salt-film all over yourself, and I didn't like it, either.  But up here in the Great Lakes, we tend to think of going swimming as roughly akin to taking a bath (OK, kind of a cold bath; and you have to kinda get used to the vaguely 'fishy' smell).  So, needing to shower after swimming seems to sorta defeat half the purpose of going swimming in the first place. . .

Now, 1F was a fairly cautious child, and bright enough to know that things live under the water, where she can't see 'em - fish, and whales, and sharks, and jellyfish, and all sorts of things.  As a very young child, she would resist even wading into the Great Lakes, for fear of the unknown critters and thingies that might be lurking where she couldn't see 'em.  We were finally able to convince her that there were no sharks, or anything else that might be inclined to make a meal of her, in the Great Lakes, that those things only lived in the ocean, and not the Great Lakes; and that assuaged her fears.  But now, in Florida - THIS was the ocean, by golly, and there ARE sharks in there, and she wasn't about to put herself so rashly in harm's way like that.  I finally got her to get in the water by telling her that sharks can't swim when the water is shallow, and I promised to always keep myself between her and the deep water where the sharks were (she didn't so much mind the idea of her dad becoming a meal for a shark). . .

There was a mild dispute, though, as to whether the Gulf of Mexico really counted toward my 'both oceans' goal, or whether the Gulf should be considered as a separate body of water unto itself.  No matter, though - my mother lived on the Atlantic coast of Florida, and when we drove over to visit with her and her husband (geographic note: the 'middle' - ie, non-coastal - parts of the state of Florida are singularly boring to drive through; unless you can convince your kids to make a game of counting dead armadillos, or somesuch), we took our opportunity to avail ourselves of the beaches on that side of the state.

The Atlantic beaches reminded us much more of our good-old Michigan beaches, than the Gulf-coast beaches had.  The sand was a familiar brown, and the wind whipped on-shore just like it did back home, creating some much-more-impressive waves than we'd seen on the Gulf side of the state.

At one point, we were walking along, and we spied, maybe 50 yards or so ahead of us, what looked like a sandwich bag that someone had discarded on the beach.  Now, Jen is a very committed picker-upper of trash, so she 'tsk-ed' in the appropriately disapproving manner, and walked ahead to dispose of the offending refuse.  By the time she was just bending down to pick it up, I was close enough to notice the long 'stringer-things' spreading out from it, and I quickly yelled at her not to touch it, and leave it alone.  When I got close enough to get a good look at our 'sandwich bag' (which even looked like it had grape jelly smeared on its insides), it was apparent that this was no piece of human-generated litter, but a beached jellyfish.  And we breathed a heavy sigh of relief that Jen hadn't gone ahead and grabbed it up. . .


I checked the Pacific Ocean off my list when I went to visit my birth-mother the first time after our reunion.  She and her husband live in California, near San Diego, which, as long as I'm on the topic, is about the most perfect climate I've ever experienced - 75F pretty much every day, 50F pretty much every night.  That visit was also the first time I ever experienced jet-lag, going virtually face-down in my dinner-plate, because my body thought it was 11PM; and then, the next morning, I popped out of bed at 5AM, feeling like I'd slept in, bright-eyed and ready to go.

My first full day in California was beautiful, like pretty much every day is in Southern California.  Looking out over the ocean, there were a dozen or so surfers taking advantage of the six-foot breakers rolling in.  There is an underwater 'shelf' a couple hundred yards or so out from the beach, so the swells that roll in from Hawaii, or Tahiti, or wherever the waves come from that roll in on the beaches of Southern California, break sharply, and consistently, when they encounter the shelf.  I wondered to myself how they manage to keep the kids in school there; where I grew up, on the Great Lakes, the school year roughly coincided with when it was uncomfortable to be in the water.  But if it's 70F outside in November, I could imagine myself weighing an imaginary balance in my hands: 'let's see. . . school. . . or surfing. . .?'

I took several walks on the beach there, and I encountered sand crabs for the first time - little critters that are almost insect-like, that burrow into the sand on the beach.  You can always tell where to find them, because they leave a tell-tale pattern of little holes in the sand.  So, when you see the holes, you can just scoop up a handful of sand, and let the wet sand slip through your fingers, and you'll be left with a half-dozen or so of the little crabs, wiggling and crawling on the palm of your hand.  It's a little disconcerting at first, but after a while, it's kinda cool.

The Pacific is also where I first encountered tides in a major way.  Of course, there are tides on the Atlantic coast, but when we were in Florida, we just spent an hour or two on the beach, and returned to the house; we didn't spend a sufficiently extended period of time at the beach to notice the difference in the water levels.  But where my birth-mother lives, we could see the ocean pretty much all the time, and there is a sea-wall, perhaps 10 feet high, between the water and any inhabitations.  So, at high tide, the water laps up against the bottom of the sea-wall, and there really isn't a beach.  Which was a little disappointing, when I wanted to walk on the beach and there was no beach there for me to walk on.  But at low tide, the beach was yards and yards wide.  So I learned to read the tide charts, so I could plan my walks more intelligently. . .

The first day I was in California (after rising at 5AM), I announced my intention to go swimming, as that would mark the completion of my goal of swimming in all five Great Lakes, and both oceans.  Immediately, my hosts adopted concerned looks.  "Oh, no," they said.  "You can't do that.  At least, not without a wet suit."

"What?!?  Why not?"  I wasn't about to wear any freakin' wet suit; I wanted to feel the ocean on my own skin, doggone it. . .

"Well, it's November."

"It's 75 degrees."

"Yeah, but the ocean is only 60."

I looked at them incredulously.  "Let me tell you about Lake Huron. . ."

So I changed into my bathing suit, climbed down the sea-wall, and waded into the ocean.  The water was a little on the chilly side, but in justr a few minutes, I was used to it, and I had a ton of fun wading out to where the waves were breaking, and feeling them smack against my back.

Then I went back to the house, showered the salt off myself (I still can't get used to that idea), and smiled with the satisfaction of having completed my hydrological quest.  Now, I suppose I'll have to look for an opportunity to collect the Indian Ocean. . .


I'm sorry, but I have to take just a second to mention the football game my Spartans played last night against our friends from Wisconsin (who just happened to be ranked #4 in the country coming into the game).  What a wild, zany, crazy game.  We were almost instantly behind 14-0, having run only one offensive play (a fumble).  Then we were ahead 23-14 at halftime, having blocked both a field goal and a punt, and scored a safety, besides.  We went ahead 31-17 early in the 4th quarter, but the Badgers stormed back to tie the game with just over a minute left.  It looked like the game was headed into overtime, but my Spartans threw a 'Hail Sparty' pass on the last play of the game that bounced into the hands of our receiver on the 1-yard-line, and it was initially ruled that he hadn't scored.  But the call was reversed 'upon further review', and we won 37-31.  What a crazy game!

Of course, I'm glad we won, but what a kick in the head it has to be for Wisconsin, to lose like that.  I know how it would've been for me if we'd lost, after playing so well the whole game, against a superior opponent. . .

Which, I suppose, is just one more reason to enjoy sporting contests, but stop well short of investing them with anything approaching ultimate significance. . .

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Roar of the Tigers

OK, with apologies to all my non-sports-fan readers (which is to say, pretty much all of you except Suldog); you know how some guys are with their sports teams. . .


My Detroit Tigers had a pretty darned good year in 2011, winning the American League's Central Division, thus reaching the post-season for the first time in five years (unless you count the 12-inning play-in game they lost to the Minnesota Twins in '09), and only the sixth time in my own young life.  Then we beat the mighty Yankees in the first-round series, earning us the right to be defeated in six games by the Texas Rangers for the American League championship.  Alas, of our four losses to the Rangers, one was by one run, and two were in 11 innings (although getting beat 15-5 in the final game tends to stick in people's minds).  That said, the Rangers are a really strong team (such hitters!), and they'll acquit themselves well in the World Series, I'm sure.

I'll beg your indulgence for a few paragraphs while I briefly review the season. . .

It was an odd season, beginning with a sense that this was a pretty good, competitive team, and that the Central Division was ripe for them to win it, with even the better teams all flawed, to varying degrees.  And yet, us Tiger fans spent most of the season in frustration, wondering when the team was going to stop struggling so much, and show its true quality.  Well into August, the Tigers were only six games above .500, and a game or two ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians (or was it the Chicago White Sox?  It varied from day to day).  Then suddenly, in mid-August, everything started clicking, and the Tigers finished with 95 wins, winning the division by 15 games.  Amazing.

For much of the season, the only real attention given to any individual Tiger was focused on Justin Verlander, their ace pitcher, who will undoubtedly win the American League's Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in the league.  I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that JV won 24 games (a really large number, in these days of five-man pitching rotations), allowing 2.4 runs per nine innings.  Opposing hitters could only hit .192 against him, and he amassed 250 strikeouts during the season, besides throwing his second no-hitter.  As phenomenal a season as any Tiger pitcher has ever had.

There was also our closer, Jose Valverde, who collected 49 saves without blowing a single opportunity (which isn't to say that we were never nervous when he was in the game).  Miguel Cabrera had a relatively quiet season, by his standards, but still led the league in batting average, while hitting 30 home runs and driving in 105 runs.

A couple of the Tigers' young players had breakout seasons - Alex Avila made the All-Star game as the best catcher in the American League; not many of us saw that coming.  And Brennan Boesch developed into a steady, productive major-league outfielder, which was not obvious at the end of 2010.

The pitching looked to be a strength, given how well Max Scherzer had pitched the second half of 2010, but he never really found that groove in 2011.  Rick Porcello is still a promising young pitcher, but the fulfillment of that promise remains mostly in the future.  But the acquisition of Doug Fister at the trade deadline was a stroke of pure genius; he'd gone 3-12 in Seattle, but with an ERA of around 3.3, so he was pitching well, without much to show for it.  Then, practically from the minute he arrived in Detroit, he was right on a level with Verlander for shutting down opposing hitters (and frankly, in the post-season, he pitched considerably better than Verlander did).

In fact, several of the Tigers' deals this year paid big dividends.  The big off-season free-agent signings were Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit, and both were huge contributors to the team's success.  If Martinez did nothing else, he earned his pay for making opponents pitch to Cabrera; a .330 batting average (and close to .400 with runners in scoring position, or when Cabrera was walked ahead of him), with 103 RBIs, were above and beyond.  And Benoit, after some early struggles, settled into a lights-out 8th-inning guy, handing games over to Valverde.

At the trade deadline, the Tigers picked up Wilson Betemit and Delmon Young, besides the aforementioned Mr. Fister, who both contributed solidly to the amazing stretch run, capably filling gaps in the lineup.  In the past, these deadline deals have often as not turned to dust (*cough* Jerrod Washburn *cough* Aubrey Huff *cough*), but this year, it seemed like every single player addition (with the exception of Brad Penny, and even he had his moments) just worked out wonderfully.  I love it when a plan comes together.

So, it was an odd season - four months of frustratingly mild success, capped off with an incredible final six weeks.  And in the end, this was one of the better teams in Tiger history, for sure.

And the nice thing is, the team looks to be set up for a nice run for a few years to come.  With few exceptions, most of the Tigers main players are young - 28 and younger.  And if some of the younger players start living up to their potential (which, I realize, is never guaranteed), we could be having a lot of fun for the next few years.  It would be nice to have it be our turn to win the division for four or five years in a row.  We've never done that (at least, not in my lifetime); it would be nice to see how it feels. . .


And, as long as you're indulging me my sporting affections, can I also mention that yesterday, my beloved Spartans were victorious over our intense in-state rivals from Ann Arbor?  And that this was our fourth consecutive victory over the Wolverines?  And thus, an entire senior class will have graduated from the University of Michigan never having defeated their 'little brothers' from up the road?  I can hear the Wailing of the Victims from 60 miles away. . .

All kidding aside (well, most of it, anyway), these are good times to be a Spartan. . .


Thank you; you all are very kind to indulge me in my reverie.  We will return to our regularly-scheduled programming with the next post. . .

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again. . .

Okay, my friend Suldog has done it again (this is becoming quite a habit with him. . .); with his recent post (which was really a fairly old re-post), recalling the house he grew up in, he has provoked a whole set of reminiscences to bubble up from the back corners of my brain, and into his comment-space.  Which, in its turn, has provoked me to write a more complete account for your enjoyment.  Or, you know, whatever. . .


When I was a young child, our family moved around quite a bit.  Just sitting here keying this in, I can think of eight different houses that I lived in before I went away to college, six of them before I was ten years old.  The house I was adopted into, in suburban Detroit; our first house Up North, which we only lived in for about a year, when I was four; then back to the Detroit 'burbs to start school, and yet another house in the same 'burb; then back Up North, to the house on the shore of Lake Huron.  We lived there for about two years, and I can still conjure up a tear when I think about moving out of that house when my parents divorced.  We moved to a house 'in town' for about a year, and then, when my dad remarried, we moved to another house closer to the edge of town, where we actually lived for seven years, virtually until I graduated high school.  Then my parents moved to suburban Chicago virtually simultaneously with my graduation, so after that summer, I went back to Michigan for college, and my family commenced morphing into Chicago-ites (or whatever they're called); rooting for the Bears, the White Sox (ugh!), and (please God, no) the Bulls.  It's funny - my family lived in that house in suburban Chicago for 35 years, but I never really 'lived there'.  It's the last house Up North, where we only lived for about 7 years, that holds most of my memories. . .


As I said, we moved there after my folks got married, just before I turned ten.  That's where all the 'new-blended-family' drama played out, and where my two youngest brothers were born (okay, they were born in the hospital; we didn't live that far north; but that was the house they came home to).  I was in 5th grade when we moved there, and we moved out less than two months before I graduated (I only consented to move to Chicago if my credits could be transferred back, and I could get an Up North High diploma) (I'm sure that my folks were really worried by my little ultimatum; at any rate, they found my terms acceptable). . .

Sometime when I was in junior high (I want to say it was '68, since my memories are intermingled with the Tigers' world championship, and twelve seems about right for how old I was), in order to leverage the available space in the house, Dad decided to turn a third of the basement into a deluxe, three-boy 'boy-cave' bedroom.  Each of us had our own little 'niche', with a bed, a closet and a built-in desk-and-shelves all our own, so it was almost like we each had our own room, even though it was all contiguous open floor-space; it was quite cool.

The construction of the bedroom was also the occasion for a goodly bit of training for my brothers and me.  We helped Dad frame in the walls, run the wiring, and hang the drywall, so by the time it was finished, those things weren't so daunting anymore.  To this day, I don't mind doing a bit of electrical work, and I always think of constructing that bedroom whenever I have to do some.

Our yard was something like a quarter-acre, on the wooded dead-end of our street, a block from our closest neighbors.  On a snowy day, the walk down our street was like something out of Currier & Ives.  The house itself sat on the top of a little mound, with the basement open on one end to a walk-out.  The back yard was pretty open, and we would often have our friends over for backyard whiffle-ball (in the summer) or football (in the fall) games.

In the corner of the yard, there was a mountain-ash tree, which produced delightfully-colorful orange berries in the fall, which the birds loved to eat (my brother and I, though, tended to fixate on what a pain those berries were to rake off the lawn, and the way they gave the birds the runs, which also involved more work for us).  In the late fall, the berries, whether still on the tree, or fallen to the ground, would ferment.  Which gave rise to the annual ritual of The Day of the Drunken Birds - the birds would gorge themselves on the fermented berries, and for that day (and maybe a day or two after), we'd have birds staggering and falling in the back yard, struggling to take flight, but not quite getting their wings to work properly.  Or, if they did manage to take flight, they'd fly into the windows, or perform bizarre drunken aerobatics.  Good, good times, those. . .

Truth to tell, though, 'wooded' is a little bit of a misleading adjective for the end of our street.  Our yard was bounded on two sides by what could only be justly called a swamp (although, to be sure, there were plenty of trees).  Many a baseball of ours became water-logged and useless for having been errantly thrown into the swamp, and found/retrieved only several days later (of course, we never really knew for sure that the baseball we pulled from the swamp was the one we'd most recently lost, or the one we'd lost six months ago).  When I was in high school, Dad assigned my brother and me to drain the swamp.  For a couple weeks that summer, we were out in the swamp with shovels, knee-deep in, um, swamp-goo, dredging a channel down to the main drainage ditch that ran along the street (okay, it was a dirt road, but it was inside the city limits, and for postal purposes, was designated as a 'street', so I'm going with that).  It was nasty, smelly work, but once we'd met Dad's specifications, the swamp sho-nuff drained, and our errant baseballs landed on a floor of damp leaves, instead of eight inches of standing fetid water (and, you know, whatever else).

The standing water accounts for the mound that the house sat atop.  Actually, the basement floor was maybe about a foot above the local water table, so the house was built basically as low as it could have been, and then the mound was back-filled around the foundation wall to leave it looking like the ranch house it was supposed to be.  Not long after we moved there, we had a massive rain storm that left our basement filled with about a foot of water, destroying several boxes of 'important' papers (including my adoption order).  Which was remedied, in large part, by opening the walk-out at the far end of the basement, and letting the water run out into the yard (and ultimately, the swamp).

That mound also made for some, uh, unique challenges for young drivers-in-training, as it required a subtle touch on the accelerator pedal to balance having enough power to climb the hill, but still go slow enough to safely guide the car into the garage, whose opening was roughly three inches wider than the land-yacht 9-passenger station wagon that was necessitated by the size of our family.  The first time I drove the family vehicle, I left it so squirrelly-sideways inside the garage that my mom couldn't get it back out without peeling the trim-strip off the side of the car.  Yeah, Dad was real pleased with me that day. . .

I've written elsewhere about some of our snow-bound winter adventures, living on a dead-end street, and what that meant for snow-shoveling duties.  Especially the time we got 42 inches of snow in a week, and it became an open question as to whether we were strong enough (especially after a few hours' shoveling) to throw the snow to the top of the existing piles. . .

So it was with a degree of wistfulness that we left that house, with all its memories, and moved to metropolitan Chicago.  Which could hardly have been a bigger cultural shock to us north-woods bumpkins.  But that's another story, to be told (if at all) at another time. . .


When our family moved to Chicago, my grandma continued to live Up North, so for a few years, I had a place to stay when the urge struck me to renew contact with my roots, and I stayed with her a few times for short visits.  But not long after my ten-year high-school reunion, Grandma died, and it was a bit more of a chore to 'go back home'; and for several years, I didn't go back.

But when I got the invitation to my 20-year reunion, I was eager to go back and see the old hometown again.  I booked a room at a motel by the shore, that had once-upon-a-time been one of my customers on my paper route; right next door was the local miniature-golf establishment, where I'd spent many happy summer hours in my youth (especially since it, too, was a paper-route customer, and when I'd go collecting, I'd have a big wad of cash in my pocket, which just seemed to call out to me that I should play a round or two of miniature golf).  I went to the reunion and got reacquainted with several of my old friends (although there were twinges of sadness, to find that the football captain and the cheerleader, who had both been friends of mine, were in the midst of an acrimonious divorce, and seemed bent on using the reunion as a contest to see 'who-has-more-friends'; nice).

The day after the reunion, I decided to do some retrospective sight-seeing around my old hometown.  The schools I'd gone to were still there.  Well, except for two of them, which had been torn down, and there were green, grassy parks where they had once stood.  One of the old ball fields I'd played on was overgrown, although the old chain-link fence marking its boundaries was still there, leaning askew, and rusting.

The downtown, which in my day had been a typically bustling commercial district (well, as 'bustling' as a town of 15,000 souls can conjure up), was almost completely given over to little shops catering to the tourist trade, selling T-shirts and baseball caps and coffee mugs emblazoned with the name of the town and maybe a deer, or a fish, or a lighthouse.  All the 'real' stores had moved to the mall that had gone up at the edge of town a few years previously.

Then I drove over to the other edge of town, where our house had been, to see what it looked like.

For starters, it wasn't a dead-end street anymore, and it had neighbors.  The swamp was gone, with new houses standing where it had been.  There were houses next door, and behind it; and the woods to the side of our yard were thinned to the point where other houses were visible between what trees were left.

The mound our house had stood on had been removed, the foundation-wall standing exposed to the air.  A new garage had been built, on the level of the basement, and what had been our garage had been converted into living space on the main floor.  The back yard was fenced in, which it had never been in our day (what would have been the point?)

I got out of the car and stood, leaning against the car, surveying the house that I'd grown up in, and yet, so very different, both in itself, and in its surroundings, from the one I'd grown up in.  As I stood there, the owner of the house came out onto the porch and asked if he could help me with anything.  I explained that I'd grown up in his house, and was just recalling having lived there, once-upon-a-time, and I'd be moving along soon, if he didn't mind.  It turned out that he was still the same guy who'd bought the house from my dad, and he asked if I'd like to come in and look around.  I thanked him and told him that, if he didn't mind, I'd like that very much.

So I went in and had a look around.  The main floor was still pretty much the way I'd remembered it, except for the new family room where the garage had been.  I was especially eager to have a look in the basement, and the bedroom that my dad and my brothers and I had put so many hours into building.  But when we went downstairs, there was no bedroom to be found; just a regular old basement, mostly used for storage and laundry, and 'utility-type' stuff like that.

I thanked him most graciously for affording me the opportunity to come in and have a look at my old house.  Then I left and proceeded on my way back home, having been confronted most directly with the truth of what Thomas Wolfe had once said, that You Can't Go Home Again. . .