Friday, May 8, 2009

Going Back Again

Last week I was in Rhode Island for the first time in almost five years. Visits there are less frequent now that Dad is gone. Then we went every couple of years to see him (and when we were overseas we made Boston our port of entry and Cranston, Rhode Island our home base for visits to the States), but now it takes a wedding, a funeral, or a business trip to get us east of Chicago. Not many of those come up.

This was the longest time between RI visits for me. Perhaps it was this length of absence, but Rhode Island almost seemed a foreign place. Of course there is the language barrier--accents that are strange after years in the midwest, overseas, south, and for the last eighteen years the border between the south and the midwest, but it's more than that. Place names are mostly familiar, but not roads. Does RI 37 have an interchange at Pontiac Avenue? I wasn't sure, but took a chance and it turned out it did. Does this city street extend from Pontiac to Reservoir? I didn't think so, so I accessed it via Pontiac. Turned out I was right again. But the memories were weak, more instinct based on years of learning how cities and streets develop than memory.

I could write much more about this, but have little time to do so. The visit to the cemetery where my parents and grandparents are buried brought familiar scenes to the fore, a mixture of pleasantness and loss. The trees surrounding Birch Garden in Highland Memorial Park were larger, but it seemed many must have died, for it was not as grown up as I remember it from 1997.

The URI campus was much changed, a mix of familiar and new. Trees bigger. Traffic patterns changed. Frats and Sororities in places I didn't remember, but with buildings obviously old enough to have been there when I was. The lay of the land and topography seemingly new. New athletic facilities that seemed so large they must have been a waste of taxpayer money. I found I only remembered an axis from Butterfield dormitory to the Student Union and the quad and on to Bliss Hall (the civil engineering building), but little else. Even the streets I used to ride my bicycle on to get to work in Wakefield seemed different. The second dorm I stayed in (only for one semester) I couldn't have picked out. Maybe if I was on foot, but not from a car.

The years have flowed by, like water in a pipe. Life has taken me down paths I never would have guessed, though the work of my career has turned out quite similar to what I decided on my junior year of high school. Last night Lynda and I were discussing the mini-reunion I had with friends in Cranston last week. That led me to take my senior yearbook from the shelf and spend almost an hour in it, something I haven't done for probably three decades. So many of the faces were foreign to me, even some of those who signed at their picture. I knew that person? How? It says we were in band together (or English or Chemistry or football or track), but I just don't remember them. For a lot of years I have limited my ready recall to just those few I was closest to. Maybe that's how most people do it.

Hopefully I'll be back in RI new year for my 40th high school reunion. About 680 graduated from Cranston East in 1970. Per actuarial tables, most of us should still be alive, though not all will actually attend. Will seeing people in the flesh bring back the memories? I kind of hope so.


Gary said...

So good to see you again, Dave. We were much different people back in high school. I doubt we would even recognized ourselves if we could go back to observe.

The athletic facility at URI (the Ryan Center) cost $45M with the funds coming 1/3 each from private sources, state funding, and student fees. Expensive, but about as functional as possible for the money. Venues on other campuses have cost more and been less accommodating to spectators and events.

David A. Todd said...

Gary: I missed this comment, or saw it and didn't reply right away and thus didn't reply. I also enjoyed the mini-reunion. Hopefully it won't be twelve years until the next one. I just re-read my post and found three typos, and two places where much better wording was possible. Not good for a wannabe writer to do such things.

$45 million is still a big chunch of money, whatever the source. I know all major universities are constantly upgrading their athletic facilities, and none can afford to be left behind. Still, I can't be enthusiastic about such expenses.