You Can’t Go Back Again

posted in: Age, Life Lessons 27

Or Can You?

When I was in grade school, my classmates and I watched one afternoon as a small horde of fragile-seeming former students creaked their way into our elementary school and down to the cafeteria. Most had canes as I recall.  All had white hair and wrinkles. Oh the wrinkles: I could see them from the staircase.

“They’re going to their 50th reunion,” our teacher told us.  It was then I decided that 50 years must be a really long time. Those people must be really old. I did the math. They were more than SIXTY. Oh my!

But those of us thinking about, going to, or remembering our fiftieth reunion — whether of grade school, high school, or college — aren’t so old. Not anymore. Times have changed. So has our health. So has our attitude towards our health.

Wrinkles are in.  We’ve earned every one. We don’t use a cane, unless we’re getting used to our new bionic hip or knee. We don’t necessarily even have white hair.

Heck, many of us sport our new Fitbit on our wrist.

The adage that “old” is relative is not news to us.

What is news, at least to me, is how I have been drawn to looking back, seeking what was once so familiar, comparing my past to my present. Have you found that too? It’s fairly recent for me. Maybe the past year or two.

And each time I do, I’m struck by how different everything is. How much smaller things seem. How much busier, faster, more complicated. And oh, those trees!! — those that are still here.

This past weekend saw the 50th anniversary of my first college graduation — an associates degree in “pre-nursing” from The King’s College in Briarcliff Manor, New York. And, for my brother Gary, whom you met last summer in He’s My Brother, it was the 30th. Same college. Different majors.

Sometime over the winter, we decided we’d go back together, relive the memories as best we could.  I knew the college had moved years ago. I knew there was no formal reunion planned. That was OK.  I just wanted to walk the land.

It wasn’t to be.

From the police car stationed by the Do Not Enter: Construction sign, to the policeman sitting inside it who couldn’t have cared less that I had driven so far to simply do a little reminiscing, our walk down memory lane didn’t look good.

Fortunately Gary, who had spent more years there than I, and more recently, knew the back roads. Here’s where those roads brought us.

 

Only the town’s water tower remains.

 

Thomas Wolfe famously said we can’t go home again.

Knowing this, I’d been curious how I’d feel being back in Briarcliff Manor.  I knew I’d changed; the college had too. The buildings had been razed in the early 2000s. There was no formal reunion planned. I’d not even heard from the college for over forty years. I wasn’t going back to see former classmates.

But we could walk the grounds, stand on the same spots, I thought. Reminisce.

I would show Gary where I’d made out (with what’s his name?) under the tree by the famous outdoor pool — at one time the world’s largest outdoor pool, swum in by none other than Johnny Weissmuller himself (the original Tarzan, fyi).

I’d show him where I had parked my car that never started in the cold morning — on the top of the hill so I could pop the clutch as I coasted down to my part time job at the nearby IMB.  I was the only sophomore to be allowed to park in the seniors’ area.

And, I wanted to climb those rickety wooden steps that led nearly straight up from the chapel/gym below, near the pool, up to the Lodge — if they were still there.  If not, what were they replaced with?

 

Here’s the same water tower from another angle. There’s the outdoor pool.

See that hill there?  It was steeper fifty years ago, but that’s the one I’d wanted to climb again.

Again, a chain link fence prevented us from getting closer.

Gary had lived off campus during his later student days.

So, off we went to Lyndhurst, in Tarrytown, where we took selfies. Of course.

 

I forgot to take my sunglass clip-ons off.

That’s Lyndhurst castle in the background. That’s not where Gary lived, mind you, but it was attached to the aqueduct, also a fixture in my memory as I once rode horses on that aqueduct — another story for another time.

Do you know about the aqueduct?  It’s the huge pipe that has brought  Manhattan’s water from the Catskills and a few Delaware River tributaries, mostly through gravity, since before the Civil War. It now services all five boroughs and is maintained by the city with annual inspections. There have been no interruptions of service.

See, old really is relative. It’s still good, useful, purposeful. And oh, so serene.

 

Hiking the Old Croton Aqueduct in early summer.

 

But I digress.  We were walking the aqueduct so we could get to Shadowbrook — where Gary had lived in the carriage house or the servants quarters or, given his love of music, the music room. It was the home at the time of jazz legend Stan Getz and his wife. Again, another story for another time.

 

The gate at Shadowbrook. Grand and majestic, just like the house that we couldn’t see from the road. Too much woods grown around it.

 

I got 6,107 steps in that day, says my Fitbit.

Enough touring. We went for lunch at the railway station in nearby Chappaqua — the scene of another memory, which I’ll keep to myself, thank you.

The entire building had stood vacant for years after the Penn Central Railroad went bankrupt in the 1970s. Fortunately for me, it had been renovated during the ’80s with the dark wood panelling I remembered, though the configuration was “all wrong.” Still, the food was great.

And isn’t that really the trick? While you can’t go home again, you can go back — to enjoy what is there now.

And enjoy I did, especially the next day when we all (with Gary’s husband Carlos) went into the City where I walked 18,816 steps, says my Fitbit.

Memories of my years at King’s grow dimmer each time I dredge them up. In a way, I know that even if the campus had been the same, I wouldn’t have, couldn’t have seen it in the same way because I’m so different.

The life I have TODAY, even with the saga of our ongoing disaster, which you’ll read about later this month, is what is foremost on my mind. My Here, my Now, is what I cherish — even when it sucks.

As I celebrate this reality, I also celebrate my new Fitbit. It tells me I walked 9,650 steps today and 9,234 yesterday, yet my hips don’t hurt, my back hasn’t spasmed, and my plantar fasciitis has truly gone away. THAT is cause for celebration.

How about you? What are you celebrating these days? 

27 Responses

  1. REENA MUKHERJEE
    | Reply

    Nice read Janet. Took me down memory lane , my University days. Inspiring me to give a visit.
    REENA MUKHERJEE recently posted…Egg White SaladMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Reena. Thanks so much for starting us off. Those trips down memory lane can be fun — if just to see how much change has happened.
      Janet Givens recently posted…You Can’t Go Back AgainMy Profile

  2. Ronald Mackay
    | Reply

    I enjoyed your reminiscences, Janet. You pose interesting questions about whether we can go back, go home again or live in the present — and perhaps, as your blog indicates, we can do a bit of all three. I countered Thomas Woolfe’s well-known assertion with a question, “Who says you can’t go home?” as the title of my final chapter in Fortunate Isle. It took the previous 23 chapters to discover the answer!

  3. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I saw your photos on FB, but I wasn’t clear what was going on. Now I get it. 🙂
    It looks like you had such a fun trip with Gary (and Carlos).
    Merril Smith recently posted…AvalancheMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      It was, on all fronts. And the weather couldn’t have been better, though I packed for a Vermont romp, not a Metro area romp.
      Janet Givens recently posted…You Can’t Go Back AgainMy Profile

  4. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    Hmmmm, I grew up on Cocoa Beach, Fl. The beach is still there even if you can’t see it from the road. My other happy memories are with my horse but the stables are now a housing development and all the orange groves we played in are gone. That said—I have moved so many times working for Uncle Sam for 43 yrs that I don’t have anyplace I want to go back to and I did my degree mostly online. So many new place to go and new memories to make.

  5. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    Z-D and I graduated from the same university, hours away from where we live now. A few years ago we were on the road and decided to drive through campus. OH THE CHANGES! And all of them good, btw. We laughed at ourselves for even thinking that we could go back there and relive memories in the same places that they’d happened. Time marches on, and I’m always grateful that I am marching on with it, too.
    Ally Bean recently posted…The Little Sunflower That Won’t: A Lesson In Gardening & Aging Gracefully [I Suppose]My Profile

  6. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Thank you for this walk down memory lane. You gotta love re-visiting a place you remember “making out” at even if the name escapes you – ha!

    I applaud your Fitbit stats. Mine hardly ever reads over 6000 steps. Maybe I need to take a trip.

    Yesterday I completed another round of memoir edits. Even if I don’t walk far, I’ll hop up and click my heels to celebrate.
    Marian Beaman recently posted…My Dad Farmed with Mules: Father’s Day 2018My Profile

  7. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — Thank you so much for sharing your walk down memory lane and the corresponding photographs. Oh, how FUN!

    Like you and many of your other readers, I’m a huge fan of taking care of my health which includes keeping track of my steps. Most days I clock over 12,000 because Willa and I get in three 2-mile walks each day. We live close to the Boise River Greenbelt so it’s easy, not to mention gorgeous!
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted…Tread LightlyMy Profile

  8. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Hi Janet, it’s always fun to get to know you a little better through your reminisces. I’ve been feeling a bit uncharacteristically nostalgic myself these past couple of years. Perhaps turning 50 last year had something to do with it, although I also suspect it has something to do with everything going on in our country right now. As challenging as things often were back in the ’70’s and ’80’s (both personally and politically), in many ways, compared to now, it seems like something of a golden age, when bipartisanship was still alive and kicking, political discourse was far more civil, and there was still a relative consensus among most of us as to facts and reality, even if we differed on policy. I had no idea how good we had it in this regard, or how vulnerable we were to those things changing. Part of me wants to go back, I suppose, at least in these respects.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Tim. I’ve been toying around with a post about being grateful that tRump won. I thought the headline alone might get me lots of clicks. 🙂 But it’s been a good exercise. Not to give too much away, but I am grateful to have become more aware of my own white privilege, more so than I would have otherwise; to understand in a new way how deep racism exists in this land. I’m newly aware of so many really awful realities and I am a very strong believer that AWARENESS is always the first step. Awareness, Acceptance, Change was my motto when I was working with Woody in the stuttering world. I still believe it. We were in great denial during Obama’s years and would have stayed there under Clinton. But now that we KNOW, and ACCEPT these realities we can work to CHANGE them. And it appears a lot of folks believe the same thing. That gives me enormous hope.

      Make sense?

  9. Deborah Hunter Kells
    | Reply

    Hi there Janet – Yes old is relative – at least these days! I hear what you
    say in your article about a Fitbit… lol – we celebrate those milestones
    too. When I got up to 15,000 in one day – I think I went into shock. I’m
    happy if I get to 10,000 with nothing in my body complaining!
    I attended a reunion of Primary Schoolers when we all turned 50 the
    same year Barbie was born or rather invented. Not that I knew at the
    time. Now this Sunday I will be 59 of the year 59. That surely is
    strange! Well – I’m no feeling old – maybe in triple digits… All the best!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Deborah. Yes, Fitbit is a whole new world to me: new rules, new practices, even a new language (at least new words). I’m mostly loving the sleep cycle aspect. Am learning a lot. Though with today’s post, I lost a few hours. Thanks for adding your thoughts. And Happy Birthday to you.
      Janet Givens recently posted…When Words Matter: Refugee or Immigrant?My Profile

  10. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    I’m proof that you can go home again. It just doesn’t feel like home. In my retirement, I’m privileged to live once more in the home in which I grew up. It’s still “out in the country;” however, the nearby community of 300 people and no traffic lights of the 1950s now claims more than 15,000 people and is scarcely recognizable.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I envy you that family home, Janet. You are a fortunate minority, in my opinion. Thanks for stopping in.
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Ode to AugustMy Profile

  11. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    Celebrating life! 🙂 Enjoyed your post and remembering a few of my last visits to Highland Falls (High School) and West Point (where our first daughter was born) when our girls were teens. The base remained pretty much the same, but the region and school had seen many changes. Our oldest daughter now has grandchildren and I’m wondering if she remembers that family trip to rediscover the past taken so many years ago…

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You know, I did a trip one summer in the early 90s back to all the various summer camps I’d attended as a child. Most of them were in the Adirondacks, so they were easy to pull into one long weekend. It was good to see them again, how much smaller everything was. Brought a bit of closure, whatever that really is. Thanks for stopping by, Bette. I’m so sorry I missed your Comment when it first came in.
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Ode to AugustMy Profile

  12. Savoring Sixty
    | Reply

    Visiting from Esme Salon – I love how you stated – “While you can’t go home again, you can go back — to enjoy what is there now” this is so true!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi “Savoring Sixty” Good to have you over from the Senior Salon. How fun it has been to revisit a few of my much earlier haunts and see them from much more mature eyes. If I’d known this earlier, I’d not have waiting so long. Thanks for stopping in.
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Amygdala Makes Me Do It: The WP Wars, Part IIMy Profile

  13. Gael Mueller
    | Reply

    Heading to my 50th high school reunion. I haven’t been to one in 30 years. The school I started in was razed years ago. The one I graduated from is now an elementary school. But the house I was raised in is still there and I am still in touch with childhood friends. I expect this reunion to be bittersweet. Thank you for allowing me to walk with you through your memories.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Gael. Good to see you again. I hope you enjoy your reunion. I did my high school one a few years back and had a blast. Turned out my husband’s father had graduated from the same high school, so he felt right at home too. People were a lot nicer than I remembered, too. AND, you can get some great blog posts out of it. I look forward to hearing more.
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Amygdala Makes Me Do It: The WP Wars, Part IIMy Profile

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