Memories are a wonderful thing because eventually those who helped make those memories will be gone. For me many who made up the framework of my childhood have already died but I still imagine myself standing on our deck surveying the area remembering them just as they were then in my childhood. This time, as I stand there, I remember a man named Paul. He was my childhood best friend’s father. He died recently of a heart attack while fishing and left me with this story to write.
Another piece of who I am is gone but I still remember. I see him working in his garage, trying to finish his son’s soapbox derby car. He moved so slowly, even then, but I guess what I remember most is that he did eventually finish. Good-bye Paul. . . . I will remember.
In my mind there is a time, no more like a place, where the memories of my childhood appear more real to me than events that I now experience. Sometimes, when I sit alone in my thoughts, my mind turns inward to that place of childhood memories where I find myself searching for a gentler time full of only two things, innocence and curiosity.
When I revisit this time and place I always begin on the deck of our old house surveying the area like I did when I was young. As I stand there, I hear again the distant hum of cars crossing what we called the "Highway bridge." This bridge still lingers on the edge of my childhood imagination because it existed just beyond what I understood to be our neighborhood. I guess, that when I think about it I could always hear the hum of cars crossing that bridge, even when I played my hardest game of kickball. It was always there in the background calling me to see that there was more to the world than our little neighborhood and it still calls to me now.
However, now that hum calls to me from the deepest crevices of my mind to remember a place I know as my childhood neighborhood and at least for a moment I see that bridge through the eyes of a seven year old boy wondering where that bridge might lead.
I suppose if I am honest with my memory, I must admit that I never could see that bridge very well from our house for in between me and the bridge, with its branches outstretched, was a huge Fir tree. I miss that tree so much, not only for what it prevented me from seeing but for what it has never let me forget.
You see, as it swayed back and forth in the wind during the days of my youth it allowed me only glimpses of that bridge; a bridge that I would one day cross so many times that my curiosity for it quickly faded into common redundancy. Yet, at the same time it's ever green branches have continued to be one of the first images I see when I remember the people that helped make up my childhood.
This tree had roots in Mrs. Yoder's yard, but for me then, and even more now, it was a symbol of everything our neighborhood was supposed to be. Its branches reached out to all who could see it and only the length of its branches limited its care for those who might need comfort from the heat of the sun. I used to think that if I ever got lost I could always find my way home by simply looking upward and no matter where I was I would surely see the top of its branches waving at me; showing me how to find home again. It is the image of that tree waving its branches and the continuous hum of that bridge that calls to me once again, to come home to a place and people I knew a long time ago, even if it is only in a story.
Just to the left of that tree, and often hidden from my sight as well, was the McNaulty's house. The father of this household was a preacher of some sort and his children were either just older than me or several years younger. Consequently, I rarely spent time there. Though dad and I often hunted for night crawlers in their back yard, a memory for another story or two.
To the right of the tree was the only house in the neighborhood that does not have a family name attached to its memory. This was because it was empty most of my childhood. From time to time a new family would move in and then, within a few years they would move on to other places around the world, I suppose. Just the same, the yard of that house, was ideal for our daily kickball tournaments and so we played there often.
The Harod's lived next to that house and behind them, yet another house hidden from my view. This house belonged to the Copeland's. During my youth I always had a crush on their youngest daughter whose name was Mary, though I could never bring myself to tell her so. There are many reasons why I never told her of my interest in her but one of the reasons lived in a doghouse just outside their back door. All my friends and I had seen its enormous fangs on the few occasions when we ventured too close.
This alone obviously prevented many of us from visiting very often. However, in a perfect neighborhood, I suppose I wouldn't have memories of these kinds of details but our neighborhood was not perfect and these memories of that house and Mary's family haunt me still to this day.
Now, all of these names are probably meaningless to everyone but myself and maybe others who lived in that neighborhood. Just the same, however, those names have been imprinted into the crevices of my mind like the Bortz's who always made sure I had a cool glass of lemonade while I mowed their yard; or George Gladson our token hermit who had old TV equipment stored in his dungeon-like basement. And dare I should forget the scariest couple on the block; the Basket's who were rumored to have had bloodstains all over their walls. It wasn't until after they moved out of the neighborhood later in my childhood, that I was to learn that the so-called blood was really just red paint splattered on one wall. Still, I never did learn why someone would splatter their wall with paint in that way.
But of all my neighbors the one name that I remember most vividly is that of my childhood best friend; Albert Songer. I cannot remember life before him. Although, now as the years move on, my memory of the things we did together grow vague and imprecise. Yet even these vague memories deserve to be preserved in a story like this one because he was not only my best friend then, but he was my first friend in this world.
In the beginning of our friendship there was just the two of us.
Our whole world was created by the things we did together. We even formed a club to save the world (or at least the neighborhood) from the evils we had seen embraced by our older siblings. We took turns being president and even held meetings to plan our strategy. But in our naiveté we never calculated for the only thing that could defeat us in our task; we grew up. Just the same, not all was lost with our maturity for I still remember the reason for that club and I still remember our friendship. In many ways, the things we did together so many years ago continue to influence the paths of life that we have each chosen.
I learned to ride a bike at about the same time he did. In fact, when we were very young there was very little that we did not do together. We played hide and seek, built igloos, and we often talked about life and what we would become together. We would play "cars" on the wall next to his house. We made lots of toy roads during those days. However, in that game of "cars" that we played, his house was never far from mine. But that was then and our lives continued on.
He was a year older than me and graduated to the Junior High a year prior to me. Things beyond what words can describe changed during that year. It was that year, I believe, when our childhood ended and with it our friendship based on childhood things.
I don't remember much about him after that except an occasional talk about how our neighborhood was changing. We never again considered each other our best friend.
We began to move down different roads of life and soon we had both graduated from high school. He married early but it did not work out and I heard he asked for a divorce a year later. The last I knew, he had entered the military and had returned home to our neighborhood long enough to marry again. This time to another neighbor of ours named Michelle.
I have since moved away from our neighborhood to go to college and then on to seminary. I live in Kentucky now and I learned recently that he lives in Virginia. The roads to our houses are not close like they were in our childhood game of "cars" or even in that neighborhood of ours. Yet, still, he will always be my childhood best friend. Only the loss of my memory can take that away.