APRIL 2006 – NO. 5
Hard as nails, tough as bricks, Blakely Class of '56.
When I graduated from Blakely High School in 1956 I was so glad to get the hell out of town I would have run over my grandmother if she were still alive. I hated the high school, the teachers as a group, the mindset, the people, the old blue laws that kept the place closed up like a mayonnaise jar on Sundays. I hated the way "they" thought about me — trouble maker, big mouth, a child of the '60s but even I didn't know that yet.
I went to college, came home for holidays, worked away during the summers, graduated; my parents retired and moved away. I got a job in another state, married, had children, never went back.
Some summer days the air here where I live now would assume that hot, dry Bermuda High that reminded me of "home," days sunning on the dock out in the lake, the heat pounding into me. Then I'd think of "home." Maybe during the World Series I'd think of Indian summer there, the hot autumn days, bright leaves on the walks, the whole town listening to the game. That was home.
I'd think of driving Daddy's big, fat 98 Olds around the streets and alleys of Peckville, PA, taking the gang up to the lake, riding by some guy's house, some guy one of us liked. We would each put in a quarter and get a dollar's worth of gas and drive around all evening checking out hangouts and houses and cars. That was home.
Why didn't I go back? No reason to. My parents had moved, my friends had all scattered, there was no reason to go back until the invitation came in the mail to attend my 30th class reunion. Hard as nails, tough as bricks, Blakely Class of '56. That was the motto we made up for ourselves; the real one was Find A Way Or Make One.
Driving down (it's less than 200 miles from where I live now), I got lost on one of the twists and turns of the interstate. The great traffic circle you drove around to get on 6-11 was gone. Now there were conflicting signs and arrows and I got lost, turned around, tried it a second time. I looked for landmarks. There were none. What had been an empty road was filled with outlets, mini-malls, gas stations, franchises.
The Blue Bird Diner was gone. I drove on, looking for my turn, watching for the White Swan Inn where I'd turn down into the valley. There was no White Swan Inn. But I spotted a sign for Peckville and down I went into the past. Only the past wasn't there. There were no colum dumps at the bottom of the hill. Maybe the huge piles of slag had gradually sunk back into the mines from whence they'd come. Maybe they'd used it for fill. That's a reasonable explanation, I muttered.
There were a bunch of houses there now, small ranches where the skeletons of the old mine equipment shadowed us. Perhaps it had started to burn and had consumed itself, laying a faint brown pallor over the town when the wind blew in the right direction.
I turned on what had to be Keystone Avenue. Nothing looked familiar. The high school was gone and there was no pizza place on the corner, though the Borough Building still squatted on the opposite corner like a brick shithouse. Even the old church across the street on the other corner didn't look familiar — the place where I was confirmed, became a member of the community. Your fault, I muttered to myself. You found a way, you left. You made a new way, abandoned this one.
I turned onto Main Street, maybe it was Main Street. Minelli's gas station was gone, and the football stadium wasn't there. The town I grew up in wasn't there. It was gone. The vision of home that I'd held in my head all these years was gone. The only place it existed was in my head, perhaps in the collective heads of the Class of '56.
I was adrift in the present. That part of me, that ghost of the old me, was lost in the back alleys, the empty fields where she'd learned to drive. What had stayed perfectly assembled in my mind began to disassemble itself, like a personality coming apart, like the girl I once was. It all drifted down like fill into gaping strip mines, abandoned tunnels.
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