Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..
Journal Excerpt from December 29, 1983
“Last night Kenny, Dennis and I went to the movies at the old theater in Smithtown. It hasn’t changed one bit. I remembered the first film I saw there in 1959 or 60. “Thirteen Ghosts,” and we had to sit on the floor in the aisle because it was so crowded. We had a good childhood here on Long Island. Right now I’m not sure if I want to come back. If I do, I’m sure we could make it somehow either in the city or on Long Island.
Memories are great, but we have to keep them in perspective. Can’t live in a cloud of the past. Take what you learn from the past and use it to guide your future. One reason I feel so alienated up here is the new home the folks built. It is their home, not mine. There is no safe haven for my memories left here on Long Island.”
During my last trip to Long Island to visit my folks I took a detour and drove through my old neighborhood. It’s funny how things hadn’t changed much since the last time I walked through it with my camera in hand. One thing that caught my eye was the light pole on the corner of Einstein Place. The same one that stood on the corner of our yard 45 years ago.
After close examination I noticed my sister Mary Ann’s name etched into the scratched discolored metal. I pulled out my camera and took close-up photographs of all sides of the pole. There they were – my childhood friends. Johnny Bosco and Mary Ann 4 ever – Mike Smith, Donna Hayes and my name as well, etched in the metal like prehistoric cave drawings, evidence my childhood days in Smithtown, Long Island were real. It was so weird standing on the corner looking at all those familiar names roughly carved into the metallic light post. I wanted to spend more time examining the pole for names I recognized, but I realized I was standing on private property. I took one last solemn gaze at the graffiti covered pole and walked back to my car.
I’ve visited the old neighborhood only a few times in the past 40 years. I don’t know what the fascination is about it for me. Not sure what I’m searching for? I felt a touch of sadness looking over at my childhood buddy Mike Smith’s home across from that light post. The yard was rundown, disheveled and overgrown with weeds. The yard we played in, the yard with the three-foot blue plastic pool sitting proudly in the middle of the lawn 45 years ago. The pool eventually collapsed and all the water rushed out with Mike (2nd from left photo above) and me in it, riding the small wave onto the grass. That was the last time we swam in the pool. It stayed broken for a long time in his back yard standing like a circular environmental sculpture – a symbol of one small slice of our childhood escapades.
The pool is gone, childhood is long gone, but those familiar names are still etched into the light pole like ancient hieroglyphics.
You can never go back. However you can return to a special place after being gone for many years and walk through those places and hopefully smile knowing they held special times and precious memories.
I can now look back to these earlier chapters of my life – each decade since the 1950’s and realize (accept) each has been filled with challenges; good times, bad times, heartache, disappointments, love, joy, pain, turmoil and anxiety. The sixties and early seventies hold numerous joys, free from the worries of the world. I suppose that is why I keep going back to that time in my mind and in the writing.
Once I enlisted in the Army the carefree days of my youth ended abruptly and reality set in. That stress free life ended for me and many people of my “baby boomer” generation. Reality set-in – that chapter ended and a new one began. It’s only now, as I approach the ominous age of sixty that I feel the train of life slowing down enough for me to sort through it all. I blinked and I got old.
Many of my childhood friends are dead and buried, I lost touch with many of the others and if I saw them it wouldn’t be the same. The innocent landscape of my childhood town has changed as well. Yet…it’s alright! I am finally coming to terms with it all. The past was real. It was not a dream or an illusion. The names carved into the metallic light pole on the corner of Brook and Einstein Place are proof of that; the corner where I caught the big yellow bus, the corner where I wrestled and threw some punches with my best friends Johnny and Mike, the corner where we met to devise our plans for the day.
Yes, there is some sadness. I still don’t truly understand why my four best childhood friends (John, Harry, Mike and Eddie Warren) are dead. There has been sadness and disappointments for me in every decade since leaving for North Carolina and my journey into adulthood. I certainly wasn’t prepared for that sojourn. So many from my generation left childhood blind to what the real world had waiting. I suppose it’s the same for all generations. We were not much different from previous generations except for the most part we had it better materialistically and were more sheltered by our parents than the post-war generation.
I still don’t have the answers. I still make mistakes, stumble and fall. Yes…I feel more informed knowing (and finally accepting) the monumental role the decade of the sixties played in my life and the lives of so many people of my generation.
Many boomers like myself are still in the process of assimilating the past, the joys, anguish, fears, failures and successes into our present. I can finally look back at those days and smile with a glow in my heart as I visualize the black and white mental movie clips rolling through my head. There’s Johnny with that brown leather hat and silly ear flaps grinning for the camera – Mike playing with his dog and my sister Mary Ann and her friends Mary Faye and Margee jumping rope in the driveway.
Yes…those days are gone forever, but the memories remain as long as I continue to breathe no matter where I am or how old I become.