Each year for the past 3 or 4 years, I have taken a day to just be alone. I usually pick a place to go that I used to live. I started doing this after my mother died. A close friend told me that I needed to process my feelings, to go somewhere and be still, unaffected by deadlines or other things. And so that’s what I do each year.
This year wasn’t a planned trip. My daughter had come to stay with us for a few days and I took her to the airport to fly home. I had taken the full day off from work, and she was safely at the airport by early afternoon and I had most of the day left to do whatever I wanted. The airport is only about 45 minutes from a small town that I lived in when I was a kid, one of my many stops along the way, so I decided to head there.
I lived in the tiny town of Castile roughly three years, including 1st and 2nd grade. My dad taught at a small college there. We came to Castile because my dad had contracted a disease that was debilitating him. Formerly a pastor, he didn’t have the energy to be a full time minister anymore. We moved into a small apartment that the college offered, in the building seen at the top of this post. We were upstairs and there were apartments in the down stairs.
I have fond memories of my life there. I had two close friends, Pat and Terry, and we enjoyed the small town and the freedom to roam the village. I especially remember going to a local store after school with Terry and getting a cup of cider. I developed a love of reading there at the town library, and sometimes I can still picture Tarzan in my mind the way I saw him when reading.
The thing I remember the most is the time I spent with my dad. He would be home, physically worn out, basically bed ridden. We would play catch with a beanbag in his bedroom, a simple thing, but to me it was wonderful. He would tell me years later that he felt so bad that he couldn’t do more with me than catch. But I loved those times, I didn’t think of it as being cheated. Those moments are sacred to me.
I went back to Castile two years ago, walked the town, took pictures, talked with people that I probably went to school with, but didn’t remember. And I visited the old building that we had lived in. It was empty, condemned and leaning dangerously to one side, seemingly held up only by one large tree. I talked to some locals and they said the building was owned by an out of towner who hadn’t been there for years.
So now in 2018, I came back to town. I drove by the library, which looks very much as it did when I was 10. I drove past the cider mill and Pat and Terry’s old homes. I drove by the old school I went to, closed for many years and very rundown. And finally I drove to see the old apartment building. A block away I could see something was different, and as I pulled up I realized the old place was gone. A gaping space where the building once stood. It was a funny feeling, like my memories had been whisked away. Bittersweet. They had torn the old place down.
I’m still processing my feelings. The building itself was nothing. But the memories it represented, of the times with my folks, my dad, my early friends, the beginning of the journey, they are very real. It was a simple life, a bygone time. I miss the place.