My parents grew up in the tiny town of Amite, Louisiana. The current population is about 4300. In the 1930s and 1940s, the population was less than 1500. Before my dad passed away, my mother and he toyed with the idea of moving back to their hometown. Actually, mom would mention this, dad would ponder for a moment, and then tell mom they didn’t need to return to Amite. This was after they retired, so late 1990s to early 2000s.
I think dad was right. He realized that if they moved back, it wouldn’t be the same. Sure, they still had a few great friends living in Amite and they occasionally vacationed with this group. All the men still used nicknames for each other like Ham, Junior, and Radar. Dad’s buddy Radar was Radar long before M*A*S*H.
They were still connected to the town. When the friends were all together, they fell into that comfortable place that you can only enjoy with people who’ve known you your whole life. I loved watching the difference in my parents when we went back to Amite during vacations and they were surrounded by friends and family. Being back was soothing, like climbing inbetween clean sheets dried on clothes’ lines in the Louisiana sun. For them, they were taken back to a simpler time.
Dad knew if they went back to live, they’d start to compare new Amite with the Amite from their past. He knew that if they moved back, they would risk losing their old memories and he didn’t want that. His mother-in-law wouldn’t be there to make him gumbo or okra and tomatoes. All my grandparents now reside in the Amite cemetery. The flower blossoms wouldn’t be as vibrant as he remembered as a youngster. The azalea bushes that lined the gravel road to his house were now long gone. He knew.
After my father died, I took my mother back to her hometown. The first time we went, I took her past her old house and some other landmarks. Our last stop was at my dad’s childhood home. When I saw it, I was taken back to my youth. This house was the perfect childhood backdrop for my siblings and me to construct our summer fantasy world. My grandparents’ house was filled with ornate, antique furniture and hundreds of books. The rooms were decorated with colorful glass figurines and wooden statues. My grandfather collected Asian souvenirs during the war, so these were mixed in. We were all sure the long hall and closed off rooms in the house were haunted. I’ll never forget the squeaks of the wooden floorboards or the cigar smell trapped in the wallpaper. The yard was huge and held its own adventures.
Mother and I approached the side door, because no one ever used the formal front door. We knocked. No one answered, so I peered in through the glass. I think I half expected to see my grandparents’ old couch and built-in planters filled with live greenery. I certainly didn’t expect to see what I saw. The current family had the audacity to make the house their own. They had divided the room with a railing and their more contemporary furniture seemed out-of-place. But what struck me the most was, the room seemed so small. Could the house have shrunk since I was a child?
It was best they weren’t home because, since Southern hospitality is a real thing, they most likely would have invited us in and given us a sweet tea garnished with mint. Proudly, they would’ve pointed out all their changes and renovations, which the house truly needed. Unbeknownst to them, the current owners would have stolen one of the best parts of my childhood and I didn’t want to give that up. So yes, I was glad they weren’t at home.
A few years later, someone bought the house and tore it down. I mourned for longer than you might imagine. I’m not overly sentimental but Oak Shadows, as my grandmother (in picture above) called her home, held the history of my family in its energy. Now, it’s gone.
I moved a lot when I was growing up. Because of this, I made sure my children lived in the same place while they attended elementary and high school. Maybe I wanted them to have what my mom and dad experienced when they were young. It took a long time for me to get used to the settled feeling of staying in one place for more than a few years. Hopefully, by staying in the same town for over 25 years now, I gave my children fond memories of childhood and some friendships they’ll keep as they get older. I’ve certainly connected to some kindred spirits in my little town.
Looking back is always a part of our lives, but we can’t dwell on it. You can’t go back to the magic that childhood held anymore than you can recapture something joyous from five minutes ago. Many people happily live in the same town they grew up in – my husband for one. It’s never the same as it was when you were a child and you shouldn’t expect it to be. The good, old days aren’t coming back. I hate change but our world is always moving forward and, I believe, getting better.
You can’t go home, but you can fondly remember the past. In a perfect world, childhood is about making good memories and cherishing them. Throughout life, you can draw on what you learned from the recollections and you can look forward to making new, exciting memories.
We can never live in the past or in the future. I hope my children learned a little about living in the moment from me, because really, that’s the only place we exist.