When I was a kid my family lived in Park Forest, one of Chicago’s south suburbs. We occupied one half of a duplex in a neighborhood that was quintessentially 1970’s, with mostly stay-at-home moms and mostly dads that left for work every day and mostly kids that goofed off outside in everybody’s yards until they got called in at dinnertime. It was a happy childhood for me and I wrote about it three years ago.
I have always wanted to go back to see that neighborhood as an adult, and two years ago I finally did. It was more emotional for me than I thought it would be.
Oddly enough I didn’t write about it then. I set those pictures aside and, after a while, forgot about them entirely until recently when I reconnected with my childhood best friend on Facebook. We were practically inseparable as kids, sharing teachers and educational experiences at school and hanging out at each others’ homes the rest of the time.
After messaging back and forth with Chris last week (about thirty-four years after we last saw each other in person), I remembered that day I visited our old stomping grounds and pulled up the pictures.
My old house looks smaller now, which seems normal since I’m so much bigger. It looks pretty well cared for, and I love that it’s neutral in color. When we lived there, all of the duplexes were re-sided in what I thought were the most awful shades of pastel yellow, pink, blue, and green. The driveway, which I thought was so terribly steep as I rode down it on my yellow bike with the pink flowered banana seat, isn’t steep at all. It’s funny how the tiniest details from childhood can stick with us for decades, even incorrectly by perception.
That last post I wrote about our neighborhood contained this passage about the meadow created by all of our unfenced backyards meshing together:
“I remember that lawn as being huge and going on between the houses as far as the eye could see. In my memory, it’s as big as the grassy area (but without the hills) on which Melissa Gilbert and her TV sisters ran, in the opening theme for ‘Little House on the Prairie’…”
Now that I’m an adult, it doesn’t look quite that large.
Back then, we all walked to our little school together, cutting through backyards along the way until we arrived at the school’s blacktop.
I loved our school. I have carried so many happy memories from that school over the course of my life. I heard that the building caught fire years ago and thought that it burned to the ground, but it didn’t. It’s still there but it’s no longer an elementary school.
In truth when I took that picture two years ago it felt crushing for a moment to see that the “body” of my school was still intact but the “soul” was gone, as if a part of my childhood had been stolen. Then I remembered that I’m a sentimental creature of habit and perhaps the idea that every element of every experience I’ve enjoyed over the past forty-seven years should still be in exactly the same place and condition as it was back then is ridiculous at best. That’s what memories are for, after all.
So Chris and I, who spent so much time together as young girls living a typical 1970’s life in that Park Forest neighborhood, spent three decades taking very different paths but now are both doing the same thing: writing. Further, we both specialize in non-fiction writing. She’s written for many magazines and currently edits one. I’ve written for magazines and well, you know the rest of what I do. She has always loved traveling and well, you know how much I love it.
She commented that it was so strange that we’re both writers and I said that maybe not, considering how close we were in our formative years, back in that old neighborhood. We’ll never know, but I think it makes a great story somehow, don’t you?