Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
— Joni Mitchell
I hated my hometown for much of my early life, which was odd because it was beautiful, friendly, full of good people, and all the colonial history you expect in a traditional New England town.
It had a great stone library across from a brick Town Hall, leafy streets with mature oaks and elms, patriotic parades, and painfully beautiful landscapes in nearly every direction.
So, what’s not to like? Well, when you have friends, or in my case, family members in high places – in local government and the church – you can’t move without someone reporting back about where you were at any given time, and what you were spotted doing.
There were small things, like smoking cigarettes behind the school, and skipping Mass for Dunkin’ Donuts. And bigger infractions like dating the “wrong” guy, or touting unacceptable politics.
Living under a microscope isn’t easy. I felt closed in, yearning, really, to be anonymous. So, as I’ve written before, I couldn’t wait to pack my bags and hit the road when the time came. Off to Boston, out to California, a stint in New York, a respite on Cape Cod, and then back to New York for almost 15 years. See you later, Pleasant Street! I won’t look back.
But as it always will, perspective returns when you least expect it, and I began to feel differently as an adult when I went back to my town to help one parent leave the world, and then, more than a dozen years later, moved back to the state to ease the other’s final journey.
Time is a funny thing. As it passed, I began to see my town in a new way, flooded with memories not of the prison I recalled, but rather a place where people knew and looked out for each other. Where huge family parties included dozens of close friends and their kids, who all may as well have been related for the time we spent together over the years.
I reach back now and the good memories are the ones I find of endless happy days with my parents either traveling or at home. For us, the separation of death is inconceivable.
But the day does come, and when I want to be close to them now, I drive to a grave amid the rolling green hills of an old corner cemetery where they rest with my oldest sister. Is this how it all ends?
No matter what I think now, life in my town wasn’t all perfection, not by a long shot, and idealized memories today can’t make it so. People are not always as they seem to be, especially those in high places.
Still, in this moment, reality is what I want it to be. And I am glad in my memory to be able to reclaim a hometown that welcomes me as if I never left.