Time has a way of turning good memories into fairytales. They somehow become bigger and better than they were as they were being lived. Good memories get embedded with nostalgia, and the unfulfilled desire to re-live the moment only gets stronger with time. This weekend, I was up in San Francisco for a wedding. I was going up with a friend who lives in Bakersfield, so we decided to meet at Harris Ranch in Coalinga to ditch my car and ride up together. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Harris Ranch is on I-5, in between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s a cattle ranch, inn, restaurant and mid-way stop for travelers headed between SF and LA. It also smells like poop – and poop reminds me of home. You see, the town I grew up in is 15 miles west of Harris Ranch. It’s a lovely little town. A town I’m quick to defend when others do what I just did and make fun of the smell. “Harris Ranch is NOT Coalinga,” I’ll tell them emphatically. Just like ethnicity and religion, it’s okay to make fun of your own group, but if someone outside your circle starts talking crap (no pun intended), game on! Had they ever been to Coalinga, population 20,000, they would discover a charming town full of friendly people. It’s a safe town (or at least was when I was growing up) and perfect for raising a family. There’s not a whole lot to do, but that’s the beauty of it – you are forced to use your imagination. Within walking distance from the home I was raised in was the edge of town. Literally, the edge of town. The dividing line was a fence made of steel posts and barbed wire. On one side, an asphalt street and on the other, land stretching out as far as the eye can see. My friends and I had lots of adventures roaming the land. Armed with pellet guns and water, we would scour the fields for bandits (squirrels), blasting them to kingdom come. When we weren’t roaming the outskirts of town, we’d be riding our bikes through the neighborhoods. You could cover a quarter of the town on a good day, jumping off sidewalks, riding through the schools and using the edges of driveways as ramps to launch you onto the street. It was as good a childhood as I can imagine someone having.
I grew up at 213 Cindy Lane in an unassuming four bedroom, two bath house. It was a short street…maybe five houses on each side. Brick covered the bottom half of the house and white stucco, the top. The windows frames were green and there were two steps leading up to the front door. Two trees in the front yard provided shade and were probably the best climbing trees to ever have existed. I’m not sure what kind of trees they were, but they were maybe 20 feet tall, with large green leaves and thick branches.
I was supposed to meet my friend at Harris Ranch at 8:30pm, but I was running a bit early, so I decided to go into town. I pulled up to Cindy Lane just before sundown. I parked my car and stepped out into the warm summer evening. Living at the coast is incredible, but there is something about a warm summer night that just can’t be beat. I started walking down the street and a flood of memories came to me. My best friend lived in the house on the corner and her aunt and uncle lived next door to us. The neighbor on the other side was a highway patrolman named Jeff. He and his wife would let us swim in their pool whenever we wanted. We would run between these four houses all summer long. As I walked down the street this weekend, I noticed there was a truck in front of my old house. A man was outside leaning on it, talking to the neighbor. They were drinking beer and trying to have a conversation, but the kids kept interrupting. I walked by and said hello. They said hi, but looked at me as if I was from another planet. Truth be told, I was completely out of place. V-neck shirts, tight jeans and TOMS shoes aren’t exactly what the locals wear. I rounded the corner of the street and walked down the ally. No one has ally’s anymore. At least no one that I know. I peaked through the fence of my old backyard and found dirt and concrete in the place of what used to be a beautifully manicured back yard. The deck that my father built with his own two hands was ripped out and the flowers that he and my mother planted were gone. It was disappointing to say the least. The only thing remaining of the basketball hoop that hung above the garage door were the four screw holes that held it there over fifteen years ago.
I returned to my car and drove to my parents house to visit for a bit before heading out to meet my friend. I frequently think of how great it would be to buy our old home and fix it up, restoring it to its former glory. I told my dad this once and he said that it probably wouldn’t be the same. I’m sure he’s right, because that’s the thing with great memories. They remain great through the remembering, not the recreating. Walking down the street, touching the leaves on the trees, seeing my name written into the sidewalk – that stuff never gets old.
So now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite childhood memory that’s taken on a life of its own?