Friday, May 11, 2007

Who says you can’t go home again?

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey
Warning: continue reading at your own risk. What follows are the ramblings of a person who has just taken a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane. If you choose to read further, please don’t blame me if you are bored to tears at the end.

As an early Mother’s Day “gift” for my Mom while she was down visiting us, we took a day trip “home.” Back to our roots, and where I spent the first twelve years of my life: Hyde Park, New York. Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Monroe family. Where I learned to swim even though my Mother doesn’t think I can. Over the next few days I’ll be taking you there. It’s only the second time I’ve been back in 40 years, the first time being just after my Father passed away seven years ago.

I hope this won’t be too boring for some of my blog readers, but after all, my blog is mainly for me as a journal of things I want to remember in my daily life. There seems to be quite a few of you out there reading, so I must be keeping some kind of audience through all my blabbing. I hope at least my sister enjoys this short series of posts. I know she reads; she just doesn’t comment. (hint, hint, wink, wink, sis!)

The sign above has significant meaning for us. See that silhouette of Mr. Roosevelt? That’s my Father’s design and they are still using it some 47 years later. Even Rick could recognize the hand of my Father. He should. My Father’s artwork hangs on nearly every wall of our house. I think he even blended a little “Fred” into “Franklin.” There is a similarity around the forehead and nose ... He had a way of putting something of himself into everything he did.

We drove down Main Street in Poughkeepsie, trying to identify buildings and places that existed 40 years ago. Do you realize how much things change? We found a few things familiar, like the storefront that used to be S. S. Kresge where we always ate chicken salad sandwiches at the lunch counter, but mostly what we remember is long gone. The department stores, the luggage store, the dress shops; all gone. Trampled by the passage of time and new shopping malls. Poughkeepsie has suffered somewhat over the years, but they are trying to bring back the downtown area. From what we saw they’ve made a great start.

Thankfully, some things don’t change much. We drove past the tiny house where my Father was born, and where he and my Mother lived for the first few years of their marriage. Some changes have been made to the house, like an added front porch and new exterior, but otherwise it’s the same.
Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

The house where my Mother spent her teen years is still there as well, but much worse for the wear. She has wonderful memories wrapped around that house and it was sad for her to see it in a state of neglect. Time marches on.

Next stop was the small grocery store that was owned by my uncle. [For a while it was co-owned by he and my Father.] It hasn’t changed much. In fact, I think all the freezer cases and the meat counter case are all the original ones that were there 40 years ago! In other words, it’s a little run-down.
Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Things are not organized very well on the shelves and as we walked around the store we found ourselves with a fit of the giggles. Take a look at an example:
Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey
The man who owns it now remembers my uncle and even has a photo of him tacked up on the bulletin board. The only thing missing from the store for me was the big coffee grinder and the smell of freshly ground coffee beans. My Mother was always sending me up to the store for something and I knew the path from our house up to the store nearly by heart. It seemed a lot further then than it actually is. Don’t tell my Mother, but when she sent me up for a jar of mayonnaise, I always opened it up on the way home, stuck my finger in it and sucked it clean. I had a thing for mayo. Still do. It must be Hellmann’s, of course. (Hey, at least I didn’t stick my finger back in the jar after licking it clean. After all, about one finger-dip of mayo is really enough.)

We lived on the property adjacent to the store and set back in from the road. In our minds we see the house being a long way from the road down a looong drive. But now it’s not. Did the house move? Did the road move? Our house is now being used as an office for an oxygen supply company. They built a huge building between our house and the road where there used to be an open field. My grandparents’ house, which was behind our house, is gone and in its place is an industrial garage building. Cars, a fire truck, and all kinds of paraphenalia are parked and scattered here and there where we used to have a stand of trees and picnic tables. The small playhouse my grandfather built for us is long fallen down. Gone is the swing set and sand box.

We had a built-in barbecue under those trees too. My grandfather would fire it up in the summertime and make his famous clam chowder (Manhattan style) outside. Poppy made the best clam chowder; or at least we remember it that way. He was always the outdoor chef and not my Father.

As we drove in we noticed that the forsythia hedge still lines the driveway, but the big pine trees in what was once the front yard are gone. A security truck with the emblem of the oxygen company pulled up behind us. The man looked at me suspiciously and asked if he could help us. I told him we used to live here. He nodded and smiled like it was the most common thing in the world and then he asked me, “do you want to have a look inside?” “Sure! Thanks!” I replied. He remembered our last name, amazingly enough. It strikes me as strange that these strangers “know” us; both in the store and here at our house. Even after all this time. It’s a very grounding feeling.

They’ve made a few changes and taken down the walls where my sister’s and my bedroom were and taken out the bathroom. I can’t imagine two bedrooms and a bathroom in the space that remains. My room was SO BIG. The kitchen area looked about the same except for no cabinets and a moved wall. The living room area is now tiny and the den where my Mom presided over her prized hardwood floor has shrunken to about half its size. How could we have gotten a piano and a large organ in that room? The house seems to be getting smaller as it ages, like a wizened old woman, shrinking in on itself. It’s just a shadow of its former self, or at least the way we remember it being. Sorry, I am not including a photo because I choose to see it as it used to be, not as it is now.

Isn’t it funny how the mind remembers things? No one moved the house, it’s always been exactly where it sits now. Neither has the house changed size. Instead, our lives have gotten broader, our horizons expanding further and further away, leaving our family house behind. Yet the house, as it was then, still lives on in our memories. And there are plenty of those. Good ones. Happy ones.

I guess the old saying is really true. You really can’t go home again, can you? Memories are all we have.



Welcome, I'm Lynne. You know me better as a 'new' Jersey Girl. But now I've moved once again, this time to North Carolina. Here I write about my thoughts, good food, and of course, dogs.

© 2006-2022 Lynne Robinson All photography and text on this blog is copyright. For use or reproduction please ask me first.

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