Our challenge was to choose among an assortment of quotes for writing inspiration. I chose the one below.
“There was rarely an obvious branching point in a person’s life. People changed slowly, over time. You didn’t take one step, then find yourself in a completely new location. You first took a little step off the path to avoid some rocks. For a while, you walked alongside the path, but then you wandered out a little way to step on softer soil. Then you stopped paying attention as you drifted farther and farther away. Finally, you found yourself in the wrong city, wondering why the signs on the roadway hadn’t led you better.” ― Brandon Sanderson, The Emperor’s Soul
Guilda turned off the radio and sighed. When, or more importantly how, had the World gotten turned upside down? Was she just too old to understand what progress looked like? Were her childhood memories tainted by innocence?
She closed her eyes and rocked with her hands in her lap. It felt like a curse that she remembered going straight home from school where her mother was waiting with a snack and then quickly changing out of school clothes to play clothes. She always did her homework first thing then ran outdoors to play until called for supper. Her neighborhood had at least a dozen kids who did the same. Bicycles zoomed and games of ‘Kick the Can’ sprung up on every sunny day. Nobody worried about what they wore or being liked or lonely. If she wanted a cool drink, her neighbors- every single one of them- had an adult at home who would oblige her. Dogs roamed freely and never needed to go to the vet. And no one felt the need to lock their doors, ever.
The drift away from what seemed an ideal time period had happened slowly. Families started having fewer children. Mothers needed to work away from home, babies were sent daily to day care centers, and never-before-heard-of ailments and cancers started killing dogs who routinely had often lived to 19 or 20 years old. Step by step changes came. It didn’t feel much like progress to Guilda, though.
Then she pondered if anyone could have magically changed the course that had led to this present. If she had had a crystal ball, which things would she have kept and which she would have left alone? There had seemed a clearly marked path forward, once upon a time… grow up, finish school, get married, raise children, etc., but now? No wonder people say that they feel lost, lonely, and purposeless today. All former paths have become enveloped in fogs. The fogs have names too, “Nihilism”, “Self-Centeredness”, and “Greed”.
She wasn’t eager to leave this world but wondered if, perhaps, it would be for the better for her to fade away just like those better times. People can’t miss things that they never have known were possible and she would no longer have moments of regret that those former days are forever gone.
This morning I decided to write from my head and heart. Writing prompts are excellent tools but often can lead us away from telling our own story. I’m going to add a new category to my archives named “Unanswered Questions”. Especially on Sundays, when the demands on my time are fewer, I lie awake in the morning and reminisce. I find I have so many questions that are unanswered. Most are unanswerable. The people, places, and certainly, the atmosphere of my past, have changed… many are gone. I’ve changed too, of course. Change isn’t a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing. It’s an inevitable one. Our memories are ‘spotty’ and tend to be sugarcoated if you’re a ‘dreamer’. But each of us can come up with questions we’d ask if we could address the past. So, here’s my first: Where did you go?
My hometown was once a bustling small city that was built by factories. Most Massachusetts towns in the 50s had the same heartbeat. Our booming city once had a population of about 22,000. Today, it is just under 13,000. Where did everyone go? Why did you leave? I have come to realize that I am a member of a rare group. I still live in the same city where I was born and also my father was born here too. Incidentally, I married a hometown man whose family set up stakes here at the same time mine did. (Our fireside chats are wonderful ones based on our shared roots. We were witnesses to the same heartbeat and changes.) In an interest to keep this post short and to the point, I’ll take one single thread of many to follow. I’m sure my hometown will be a part of many topics in this new category because it’s a BIG part of me.
Gangs of kids roamed the streets and filled the neighborhood schools, in our day. The ‘gangs’ were mostly made up of kids having fun not what it currently brings to mind. City sponsored ice skating rinks and playgrounds were frequented. The average family had at least 3 children, but I’d bet the median number was 5. It was easy to put together an impromptu game of football or ‘kick the can’. I cannot remember any single-parent households back then. It just wasn’t a “thing”. The movie A Christmas Story could have been based on my own experience minus that large department store… that was coming to my neighborhood later on.
Our city streets were once alive with shoppers visiting local specialty shops at Christmas. There was a shoe store, a music store, a 5 and 10 store, a sporting goods store, drug stores, jewelry stores, etc. that lined a beautifully decorated main street of brick buildings. We still say “going to the market” when we head to the grocery store here too. Churches of many denominations were everywhere. One nickname for our city was “Steeple Town” because of some grand cathedral-like structures with 25′ ceilings.
But something happened. It was probably gradual, but our city seemed to change overnight. Today North Adams has almost no resemblance to the city from my childhood. Many buildings have been torn down and saltbox chain store buildings have moved in. The neighborhood schools have almost gone away too. Junior High and High School are combined in one location. The factories closed and many families spread out and moved away. The charm of happy single-family based communities has been replaced with housing developments occupied by people who have no roots in our city and no old-fashioned sense of community. It all doesn’t feel much like progress.
I don’t blame any single thing on those changes. As I said, most change is inevitable. As a direct observer to the transformation of my own city, I can testify that it doesn’t ‘feel’ that most of the change was ‘for the better’. My gut tells me that the changes to the size and make-up of the American nuclear family lie somewhere near the core of all this.
So, I ask my city, “Where did you go?” and wonder, “Why did you change?”
I’m still here and I fondly remember your good ‘ole days.
She’d always thought her grandparents- born at the beginning of the 20th century- were the generation who witnessed the most dynamic human change in a lifetime, but the cultural changes of her sixty-six years eclipsed those industrial, medical, and technological advances they had beheld.
Her stomach twisted every time she reminisced about her childhood of jumping rope on the playground and feeling completely safe only to return to her present, a place and time of declared progress yet tragically foreign and ominous.
She’d like to blame it all on the 1960s but on closer examination there really was a labyrinth of cultural rot that went unnoticed while the rapid “advancement” of the human experience was cheered along.
The hippies, militaristic feminism, and the drug culture, were just the first glaringly emboldened movements to take center stage; all made possible by the everyday comforts and prosperity that the enormous leap of the sciences had secured.
Earlier, when she walked by the schoolyard, small children stood separated wearing surgical masks just twirling in circles with one child erupting in a rant filled with vulgar language getting no notice from the teacher nearby.
One child’s eyes widened with shock and met hers, but to steal her hoping to guard her precious innocence was not possible, so she wept for her instead as she walked home praying for all those children’s future.
It is First Line Friday! Welcome and let’s get writing.
“I summon you, the beasts of war!” That was an extraordinary statement for a School Board meeting. In fact, Latrelle had never even heard that statement during his 25 year service in the U.S. Army! But, he was there in support of the message that Critical Race Theory was poisoning his grandchildren’s chance at a harmonious future so he applauded his neighbor, and lifelong friend, Jerry, after his impassioned call to purge it from the public school curriculum.
When it was Latrelle’s turn to speak, he decided to calm the discussion by simply describing the definition of racism and drawing attention to the, not so long ago, goal of educators to offer useful skills to kids rather than their current “save the world” through indoctrination mania.
His heart sank as Jerry was escorted from the venue by police for ‘supposedly’ threatening everyone’s safety. Yeah, Jerry was so dangerous, alright. He was the guy who’d lost an arm defending his ‘brothers in uniform’ in Afghanistan. So much had changed since he grew up in that neighborhood!
Jerry used to joke about Latrelle having more rhythm and liking fried chicken while he always told Jerry that if chaos broke out, all he’d have to do is outrun his ‘skinny white ass’. Good times!
But since his return, Jerry’s exchanges weren’t the same. They were guarded, actually, borderline robotic. Even the direct eye contact they’d shared all their lives was now minimal.
Latrelle, initially assumed that Jerry had been changed by the war but, more and more, he suspected that it was something even harder to describe. His whole hometown had lost its warmth and cohesiveness. Progress? He certainly couldn’t see any.
Since so many other online writers have blogs dedicated to their writings, I’ve decided to jump onto the bandwagon. All posts published here will be either fiction or poetry, some new, and some previously published on various places on the Internet. Some of my works are conventional, and some are quirky. All fiction posted here, except for fan fiction, will include the letters "rose" somewhere, as a tribute to my Baba.