Just back from a week off visiting the folks in the Finger Lakes. There will be more to say about this at a later point, but not quite yet.
As part of this visit, my brother and I went back to the town where we grew up for the first time in several years, and probably the last for a while. We visited our one close friend who still lives there, and we drove around and saw some sights.
We went to see Village Green, the tract-neighborhood where we lived for about 15 years or so, including the first 13 years of my life. It was remarkable how small everything seemed — the houses, the streets. The front yard where we used to run for hours now looks like it could be spanned in a dozen ambitious steps.
I’m fairly sure I’ve been back to that neighborhood before as an adult, but I never had this impression this strongly before. So small.
Favorite childhood climbing tree: Still present and, from the looks of it, still climbable. The yard in front was a frequent Nerf/two-hand touch football field.
The condition of the houses in Village Green has also declined since we lived there. A few more unmowed lawns; a few more sun-faded coats of paint; a few more places where primer has been applied but has not been chased by a topcoat.
There’s another large tract a bike-ride away, Penfield Gardens, where the houses are a little bit bigger and fancier, and they’ve been kept up every bit as well as they were thirty years ago. Perhaps Village Green is now a destination for the less affluent, or a place where you live until you can swing Penfield Gardens.
(The housing stock in town seems firmly divided into two camps — 1960s split-levels, and 2000s McMansions — and I imagine the truly loaded go straight to the McMansions. We eventually moved out of Village Green as well, but we didn’t go to Penfield Gardens. My folks wanted a place that wasn’t cut from the same design template as all the houses around it, and they found one.)
We dropped past a local park that hosted both our childhood sledding hill and a high-school cross-country course. The hill we sledded down again and again as kids, and ran up again and again as high-school runners, didn’t look any too large either. I dunno — it seemed like work back then.
The Man didn’t post any sledding rules when we were kids, and we grew up just fine, more or less. No headfirst sledding? No ramps? No walking back up the middle of the hill? The 21st century can go screw itself sometimes.
We went to our high school, which gives the exact opposite impression: It has been extensively remodeled and expanded and is significantly bigger than it was when we left it, with a surrounding ring of athletic facilities that sprawl like the suburbs of Los Angeles.
We saw the track and field leaderboard that hangs near the new all-weather track. (Or, at least, the track is “new” in that it’s been added since we left, replacing the old cinder relic we ran on. It might not be “new” at this point to people who live in town.)
My brother was crestfallen to learn that the final school record he held, in the 4×400-meter relay, was broken in 2019; he no longer has a spot on the board.
Four or five of our compatriots from the 1980s and 1990s are still represented, so our day must not have completely faded into sepia yet. But, they could go at any time. It only takes one kid with good legs and a work ethic to write new history, and that kid could be breaking in his/her first pair of shoes for his/her first season as I type this.
Our school changed its mascot from Chiefs to Patriots many years ago. Apparently some people still grumble about it but I am firmly in favor. The granite sign that used to greet visitors at the entrance to the school, a gift from the Class of 1985, now sits in a garden in front of the football stadium.
We had some time to kill so we went past our old elementary and middle schools, which are conjoined.
The middle school — which now hosts three grades instead of two — is greatly expanded. The elementary school looks more like its old self, with the addition of some extra parking and some nicer playground equipment. The Natureland woods area behind the elementary school is still there. Some of the interior trees have been cleared, but at least it’s not fifty new houses.
We ducked into the town library and looked at the yearbooks — some from our generation, some from older. I looked myself up, and some other people besides. No pictures, sorry.
We also ended up walking through the town’s main cemetery. This is perhaps not as weird as it sounds, as there was a period when we walked through it every day to get to and from the high school; we were not strangers to the place.
A fence now separates the high school, library, and fields from the cemetery. For a while the fence-block was total. At some point they put in a door, acknowledging that some visitors might make the transit discreetly.
My brother and I spent rather more time than we expected finding the obelisk of town paterfamilias Daniel Penfield, so you get a photo as proof of the quest.
We walked a loop through the cemetery, and near the end we found the grave of my brother’s former piano teacher and her husband, both friends of my parents.
We would sometimes go to their house for Christmas parties, and the husband’s fondness for making batches of pizza fritta rubbed off, I think, on my brother, who went through a teenage phase where he made this Italian snack fairly frequently. They were both good people, and I can still hear the wife’s distinctive laugh at the edge of my memory. They have both been gone longer than I thought.
I am reminded that friend networks protect against everything from dementia to depression to suicide … and that, unlike my parents, I have never really had one, or not since my college friends scattered and I chose to fall out of touch with them. I negotiated my kids’ entire childhood without building the kinds of contacts who would invite me to go watch football games on a Sunday or come over for a Christmas party.
I have probably done it wrong (“it” being social life), but my choices and behavior reflect my personality and preferences, and there is no changing that.
On our way out we also passed the grave of a young man, six months younger than I and one grade behind me in high school.
I remembered his name but had not thought of him in years, and had to pull out my phone and visit Newspapers dot com to refresh myself on the circumstances of his passing. About two-and-a-half years after his high school graduation — time spent attending community college and playing lacrosse — he went into a dodgy part of the city to buy marijuana and was shot dead.
His grave features a sizable photo-etching of him in his high school lacrosse uniform, stick in hand, eternally eighteen. He looks out into a world where, as soon as next year, the state of New York will enter the business of selling legal marijuana.
I wonder whether my insular, relatively affluent, high-achieving hometown will open its arms to pot shops — indeed, whether it will be required to. This debate was not even remotely on the radar screen back in the beer-party days.
Oh, yes, my brother and I made one other stop. He wanted once more to dig into that most Rochesterian of dishes, the garbage plate.
The original purveyor and trademark owner, Nick Tahou’s, is closed, but you can get “rubbish plates” or similar combos in dining places all over the city. At Bill Gray’s restaurant in the Panorama Plaza area of Penfield, we (yeah, I helped him out) ordered a cheeseburger Great Plate. Two patties, macaroni salad, home fries, hot sauce, and a token bun.
This might actually have done more than my deficient social network to hasten my death. But, yes, it was good, and well worth eating.
And today I am in Massachusetts, home.