"Look at that huge cemetery," Dad exclaimed, trying hard to keep the corners of his mouth from upturning. "I wonder how many people are dead in there?" He had hope eternal of coaxing an answer out of one of us kids as we tooled along in our wood-sided station wagon. But before we could utter a word, his glee could not be contained. "All of them!" he blurted as he threw back his head and laughed at his own wit.
The boroughs of Sellersville and Perkasie, PA are connected by a meandering path along the Lake Lenape creek. I run the familiar ground, crossing concrete dams and wooden bridges, passing ball fields and a turtle family of six sunning themselves on a rock.
Up a steep, rutted, and rooty trail, my steps take me to the fence of Menlo pool, my location of choice during childhood summer months. The pool I knew was large and deep, with one and three meter spring boards and a blue fiberglass slide standing tall along one edge.
Now, a new pool filled with crystal clear water awaits the summer crowd. Gone is the high dive. Two low spring broads offer more bounce for the ounce, a large fabric contraption preventing a spinning, out-of-control diver from colliding with the pool's edge. A large tube slide with wide and safe stairs offers more fun. But that's just the competition pool. A gigantic splash park complete with spiraling waterslide and lazy river replaces the small kiddie pool of yesteryear. A late summer membership sale is in progress. That was then. This is now.
There sits the Dairy Queen, still the only "fast food" in town. The walk-up stand has been there as long as I can remember. "Any mess-ups?" was the common query when we were kids. If you were lucky, the "Dairy Fairies" would make the wrong kind of sundae right before you pedaled up on your 3-speed bike with coaster brakes. Then, it was yours for the taking; free. Nothing is free anymore. That was then. The not-yet-open serving windows is now.
I cut a corner across a parking lot and into a neighborhood. Neither were here back when. Now, instead of acres and acres of woods that my Dad always wished he would have bought, are many homes with now-matured yards. But around the corner I turn, not even recognizing the corner of Hillcrest and South Main. The only home I knew doesn't look so grand anymore. Instead of sitting atop a small hill in the midst of a well-manicured three-acre lot, a new house stands in the place of three giant pine trees in my front yard. The other front corner, full of weeds and mounds of dirt, sits vacant. The builder, who purchased our sub-divided lot, lets a bulldozer rest and rust. The backyard of our house is fenced and the flower beds sad and barren. Only the green painted shutters give a wink to the past. That was then. This is now.
I cannot fling open the back door, savoring the aroma that filled that kitchen. I cannot shoot baskets through a hoop that is no longer bolted to the garage. I cannot climb the weeping willow whose strong branches used to console me. I can only remember the playtimes in that basement, the wild dashes to the school bus, the smell of freshly grass in the summer, and hoping the snow silhouetted against the street light would earn a day off from school in frigid February. I hear laughter and joy and envision my mother, father, brothers and friends within those stucco walls. But, that was then and this is now.
I turn into the retirement community a mile or so away, entering the carpeted, quiet hallways. Up the elevator to the fourth floor and through door 476. It's not the back door; it's the only door. But my Mother is there and it's okay. That was then. This is now.
Thanks for the memories.