What’s a globe-trotting, ancestral-town-seeking, genealogist to do when under COVID-19 lockdown? Find places of family significance closer to home to explore, of course.
I’ve been walking in my neighborhood (permissible under lockdown guidelines) but all the closed coffee shops and stores mock me, making me think of the DBC (Days Before COVID). A couple of days ago, I decided I needed a different neighborhood for my daily walk. So I took a short drive to the street that I grew up on.
It was a walk in the sunshine to get some exercise and shake off the trapped feeling of lockdown, but it was also a walk through my childhood.
I parked near the house where we lived when my parents first brought me home from the hospital, then walked down the street to the larger house where we moved when I was 3. Twenty-three years of my life, all on one block.
Both houses have a lot more elaborate landscaping than when we lived there, but maybe it was just the 60s thing to do to have wide open lawns boundaried by flower beds and not much else. I peered through the hedge to see the kitchen window where, as a toddler, I loved to watch birds, and looked up at my long-time bedroom window.
Even with paint and renovation changes over the years, I could easily pick out house after house where schoolmates had lived, with fun memories of trick or treating, playing kick the can, riding our bikes, going to Girl Scouts. Of course, there are less fun memories, like the house where two girls that I thought were friends ran into the garage and quickly shut the door to hide so they wouldn’t have to invite me to play with them. (Oh those nerdy years when it became obvious that I was more the boring straight-A kid than cool kid.)
I retraced the steps of young Carolyn to my old schools—first my grade school and then my junior high school. How many times had I walked/run/biked those streets? Yet despite everything feeling familiar, I also felt oddly detached.
This suburban neighborhood of large 50s-era houses with well-manicured yards and sweeping views gives off such a different vibe than where I live today, which alternates small craftsman bungalows with tall new townhouses (the perfect low-maintenance option for those of us who like to drop everything to travel or hike). My neighborhood is filled with quirky coffee shops, people with every style and color of hair (with neon almost as common as blonde or brown), and has a proud tradition of an annual neighborhood festival that features naked bikers as well as a troll statue that we are all very fond of.
In my current neighborhood, my practical walking outfit of sandals that have traveled the world with me along with t-shirt and pulled-back hair designed for hiking ease make me blend right in. In my childhood neighborhood, my choice of attire was quite a contrast to the women joggers with perky pony tails and families with 2.3 children taking the dog for a walk.
Walking my old neighborhood reminds me of my Norman-Rockwell, Sally-Dick-and-Jane childhood, which was a wonderful, safe place to launch me into life. I recognize how lucky I am to have had that security, since many children don’t.
But walking the old ‘hood became a nudge to reflect on all the places I’ve been since then, and all the new and interesting friends I’ve made as a traveler and hiker and explorer of family history. I suppose this is true of most of us, but my life experiences have made me a much more interesting person than the Carolyn who walked to school clutching her Lost in Space lunchbox. (Hmm, since Barbie lunchboxes were the norm for little girls in the 60s, perhaps my lunchbox choice was a foreshadowing of my explorer gene wanting to burst out.)
Touching base with my childhood roots was a reminder of my travels through life, and how each step of the journey has taken me far from that old neighborhood into a much richer set of friends and experiences—a valuable gift from a walk that was mostly planned as an escape from COVID Confinement.