Why does this time of the year always usher in those unexpected flashes of childhood memories that seems as clear now as if it just happened? Perhaps it's the cold, dark skies that pray on our need for warmth, security and the companionship of those no longer here.
As fate would have it, I found myself recently revisiting my earliest childhood memories as I set out on the road to my birthplace - Valley Stream, Long Island. My family and I lived in one of its very suburban towns located near the Gibson train station which, at that time, touted a charming little neighborhood of quaint stores with the usual old fashioned candy and ice cream counters where my father would purchase old Charlie Brown and Archie comics for me, and a pharmacy owned by a guy named Jerry who knew my parents by their first names, and always seemed to have a head of white hair as far back as I remember. My destination this time, however, took me to a neighboring area that triggered yet more of these long ago memories. So on this occasion, I wasn't able to witness the ultimate changes that I'm sure must have taken place since the last time I had reason to be there.
"Next Stop - Valley Stream Station!"
A very busy environment consisting of the highly trafficked Sunrise Highway amidst pockets of small village-like shopping areas and contemporary strip malls, with park landscapes and homes sprinkled in and around, and connecting it all, the Long Island Railroad. These were some of the backdrops in which I found myself the first 3 1/2 years of my life until circumstances uprooted my family and dragged us away.
Right along Rockaway Avenue, just steps from the Valley Stream train station, I began to walk instinctively along paths that gave way to flashes of toddler hood, where only emotions could tell the story of those childhood challenges I lived through long ago. Since I hadn't been there for quite some time. I intuitively enlisted my father's spirit to lead the way to what my parents referred to as "the Village", a little area with small mom and pop stores that catered to that small-town appeal of the 1960's. With my father's spiritual navigation - and no GPS needed - I located that same luncheonette and ice cream parlor called Itgens that we frequented in those days.
Large stuffed animals and super heroes filled the front windows beckoning the young, while a glass candy counter welcomed you in. As I crossed its threshold, I felt as if time had permanently stopped. And if it hadn't been for a box of Angry Birds Gummies sitting alongside old fashioned stick candy and other favorites on the counter, I'd swear that this place had remained untouched by time. Of course, the menu prices lining the walls above the luncheonette counter helped considerably to bring one back to the present. A constant reminder of the leaps and bounds our economy took over the years.
As I slid into one of the wooden booths, I thought to myself that any one of them could've been ours since we'd been there countless times. I ordered a cherry Coke, one of my favorite drinks of that time, and just sat there trying to recapture those moments. Images popped up of sitting across from my parents and watching them work through their relationship problems, just watching their concerned expressions on their faces. The owner at the time, my parents coined "the Captain", would come up to them and schmooze whenever we were there which would inevitably lighten the mood a bit.
When I left the place, I was led along other haunted paths; for instance, the very spot in the road that dipped just so when my father's car would drive over it, sending my sister and I giggling as we sat in the back seat; it would give us such a feeling of exhilaration that we would always look forward to the next time that we would take that same path. I think he knew how much we enjoyed it because we always seemed to pass over it.
When I was older and made trips alone to our family doctor, I would trek through the nearby park that would somehow always lead me to the Green Acres Mall. These images just popped in and out as I revisited these spots, each one punctuated with feelings that made me relive times that I would sometimes prefer not to. Life certainly had not been perfect. Far from it.
Perhaps by walking along these same paths, the past and present "me's" actually hope to glide into one another just to meet up, one more time, melding the realm of the past with that of the future, bringing both into alignment where we would no longer be individual but a combined entity.
Memories have the ability to echo like the vibrations of a string instrument, lasting long after the tension of those strings die away. We wish so hard that life would move on to what we hope are better times; yet when time does pass by, we long for some aspect of our purer state that was part and parcel of that child's mind. And why do we miss those times even when memories leave us with such sour notes? Perhaps we feel a part of us dies as we move further away from our younger days. Are we actually grieving for the youth that has died to us as adults?
Maybe we're just looking for our "Rosebud", like Orson Welles' character in the movie Citizen Kane - what is it we wish to recapture, really? We can't do it over, or make our family members happier, especially since we each play our roles as we see fit at the time. Could anything really be changed? It is a time no longer present, an innocence still somewhat untarnished, a world no longer being experienced.
Memories act as a gateway, allowing you to step through to revisit emotionally charged moments at any point on the time line. I'm sure if I were to reach through this veil and rejoin my younger self, she would still be taking part in her world as she did, stumbling along as always in her fashion.
"Next Stop - ......................... "