Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Conclusion: Ghosts

I'm surrounded by ghosts.

They crowd around me as I write, and whisper about all the things I've forgotten.

When I go back to Sandy, they appear to me, and they follow me. The streets fill with children I once knew.  I see them as they would appear on a summer morning -- in cut off jeans, striped socks and tennis shoes. I can taste the acrid puff of smoke, from a cap gun. I can smell the pungent odor of a new rubber bike tire. I see a phantom apparition of the street I grew up on -- Woodchuck Way. The trees on our block in this vision are young. The yards of the houses are not fenced. I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face and arms, and the mountain breeze blows out of the canyon, and through my hair. 


I can hear the clink of empty glass soda bottles in garages, and smell that faintly dusty smell of an unfinished basement. All the colors are different. They are sun bleached, and faded. And they are colors we don't use anymore...rust and goldenrod and brown. I don't see any parents. I know they're there, but I don't see them. They're behind the doors and windows, doing things that grown ups do -- worrying, sacrificing, paying...and forgetting about us...


I can taste the light, empty flavor of Wonder Bread and Oscar Mayer Bologna and Kraft Singles and the tangy zip of Miracle Whip. I breathe in the powder of unmixed Tang -- I drank a lot of Tang, because astronauts drank Tang.


I can smell the very distinct vinyl smell of a newly opened Star Wars action figure.


Other times the ghosts are walking our long streets, on a dusky October evening. The western sky fades away, as the darkness in the east is pulled across the sky, like a blanket of clouds and stars. The last of the fallen leaves are kicked up by an autumn breeze. Skeletons and pumpkins and goblins stare down from the windows of the houses, with red eyes, on the hundreds of children letting screen doors slam shut behind them, on the way to the greatest trick-or-treating neighborhood of all time.


The ghosts fade in and out. Some are holding on to the bumpers of cars, as they slide down the street, on a slushy, snowy day. Others are walking to school, endlessly walking to school, day after day, in their own tribes. I see the apparitions of Cub Scouts and Brownies.

Houses disappear, and fields upon fields of sage brush and scrub oak grow in their place like the world is spinning in reverse. Kids on plastic wheeled roller skates, whir by on the sidewalk, and boys with dirt bikes jump the curbs. There is still a large boulder near the canyon, painted like an American flag. I can smell the briny odor of the Great Salt Lake, on the edge of a summer thunderstorm. I can feel green shag carpet between my toes. I can smell the tar from a repaved street.


I see girls and boys playing together. Games in the street. Hide and seek in the backyards. Kissing tag. Kick ball. I can hear the click, click, click of a plastic jump rope, hitting the schoolyard blacktop. I can hear the crunch of gravel, as pretty girls do cherry drops off of the monkey bars. I can feel the wind in my face, and strain of pumping my legs to go higher and higher, in the playground swings. Back when we weren't afraid of playground swings.

Sometimes the apparitions are somber. Images of families that moved away. Families that didn't stay together. Friends that left our neighborhood and our lives too soon, some for inexplicably sad reasons. The memories are bittersweet, but the faces of these friends are youthful, and smiling -- the way they want us to remember them. 

The scene I see from above, is a constellation of homes, shining brightly. They are the houses that I knew from floor to ceiling. They are the houses where friends lived. The brightest star is the one at the end of Woodchuck Way, where a red headed, freckled force of nature lived.

The ghosts beckon me to stay, and I think I want to...

It's tempting to think that things were better in the past. Time softens our memories, and rounds off the sharp edges. We know that we didn't fully appreciate what we had. We thought everyone had it as good as we did, and now we know that not everyone did. We have learned that our neighborhood, and our friendships were extraordinary. We have come to know the worth of our treasure, and we feel it's lost, stuck in a memory, caught between worlds.

Like a ghost.

But, the truth is, it's never been far away. Those ghosts that gather around me to whisper about the things I've forgotten, also show me that what is most important never left me. The treasures of greatest worth are the ones that become a part of you.

We are the sights and sounds and smells of our childhood. We are our memories. We are sculpted by the experiences we have, and even more, by the friends with which we surround ourselves. We are the product of one another and we are each other's greatest masterpieces.

I like to visit with the ghosts, and I love to hear their stories, but the greatest treasure of my childhood is the story that is still being written. The story of friends who are still friends.

The story of friends, born in a new world, raised in optimism and innocence, who played and laughed and ran and jumped...who saw the world as a big, wide opportunity.


It's the story of friends who will always be friends.


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