Disclaimer: It’s occurred to me now that it could possibly take just as long to read this post as it would to go outside and run the same distance, giving a whole new meaning to the term rambling. What are you going to do? I was feeling sentimental.
We went “home” to New Jersey this past weekend to visit a very good old friend and her family, which now includes her absolutely perfect three-week old newborn son. It was so good for the soul. Her two-and-a-half year old was bouncing off the walls and such fun to play with and the baby is simply precious. It was the most real this experience has felt: oh my gosh, we’re going to have one of these.
Saturday morning was sunny and cool and I was eager to get out for an easy run — my first in quite some time. I wanted to run solo, to take my time, and simply enjoy myself, quietly.
I know each road in my parents’ neighborhood better than anywhere else in the world. We lived on Sycamore Street, in a house that my uncles and grandfather built, for most of my childhood, moving just over four blocks down the street for the next 20 years. The neighborhood is loaded with memories and meaning; as I ran I thought about each of the families I knew who lived in the homes from block to block.
Even though I took it easy, my route was fairly hard — hilly — having not run at all in at least six or eight weeks. I took the first left off my street for a long, slow climb up and out of the neighborhood. I passed the homes of neighbors new and old, the Hazards house belonged to Eddie Hartelius and his companion, Sandy, when we moved in, our next door neighbors on the left have turned over three times, at least twice on the right. My uncle Rick’s, the Ayers’, and the house my family built all passed by as I made my way up the hill, slow but sure.
I felt compelled to take a quick left for a steep descent into another neighborhood where I played as a child, one I’ve actually never run. Gerry who rode our school bus, who’s father was a judge, lived on the top of the hill on the left, the Spillanes on the right. They had been older than me, cooler. I passed my old friend Liz’s house, where she had moved in middle school after living just houses away from one another growing up. Her so-big-it-was-nearly-a-horse dog, Willie, inspired my utter fear of canines after it chased me 20-something years ago, wanting to “play” as he jumped up, paws to my shoulders, scratching at my face while I tried to run away. Liz is a lawyer now, married. Her sister is due her first baby just weeks after me. They used to throw incredible bon fires in the backyard, with roasted marshmallows and heat so hot it burned our eyes.
Across from them, a recent tragedy: brothers the same age as my sisters who died last spring in an early morning car crash only a quarter mile home, the noise of the crash and first responders so loud it woke the neighbors to the terrible news.
Finally, I took a right and back out of the neighborhood near the family who used to carpool with me to softball. I watched the Pee Wee Herman movie in their family room and later wondered aloud to my parents each night before bed: Are pirates, devils, and things on TV real? I can’t remember why, but the movie freaked me out beyond what might otherwise seem reasonable.
The steep downhill meant running back up, and I took a left into a small neighborhood populated by unbelievable, big homes. I revisited kindergarten playdates, a Brownie troop member with a sort of dark and complicated family, an inevitably doomed high school friendship, and a few houses in a row where friends of my mother and their families still live, one with a son who always seems smitten with my sister. Who can blame him, really?
Finally, I made my way back up the main road to the last hill up and over back into my neighborhood. After basically walking the hill, I added another half mile when I decided to run down one particularly gorgeous street, with big houses and lots of childhood stories: the first real bully I’d ever known, a beautiful girl with an outdoor pool where we used to celebrate the end of the school year, the house where a girl I played with a handful of times had lived when she prank called my mother pretending to be her own mother on an occasion or two, obviously not realizing that seven-year olds and mothers sound distinctly different. There was a local hockey player’s house and a big tudor where a well-known local family lived. I drove to high school with their son, who reminded me after a car accident that his mother had once had three and it played out well for her: she got “some good experience,” he told me, “and a new Mercedes.”
Finishing up. I landed at my grandmother’s house — she bookends the street with my parents — and we sat at the kitchen table and reminisced and talked about what else was new.
Always sentimental, my run had been a fun, slow way to take in a few square blocks of scenery and history, in nature instead of from the confines of a car with fleeting thoughts as we buzz past. It made me think — again — of how much I’d like to return one day, and how special a place is when each and every step has been covered before and holds such stories and secrets and memories.
Where would you take and what would you see on your hometown tour?