Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In which I whine and reminisce (as per usual)

I have always had a yearning for home. I left the place I think of as home, New York, and as I get older, it seems that I miss it more, but as I've spoken of before, the New York I yearn for is no longer the same place. Even so, knowing that there once was a Chockfull O' Nuts coffee shop on the corner of 34th St. and 6th Avenue where there's now a huge Gap store and a Horn and Hardart's automat on 32nd St. off 7th Avenue where now there's who-knows-what is like the old timers around these parts saying "make a left where the old Beal house used to be".

I've lived in Maine long enough to now know where many of the old this and thats used to be, but it still doesn't feel like home. It only feels like an insult of some kind. I suppose I feel that when I realize that there are no longer any automats or Schrafft's ice cream shops, but New York is still a big interesting city and this part of the country is now becoming a bit of wasteland without the old places.

It's not that I don't want change. Change is fine in of itself. It's what we're changing into that bothers me. When I went to Princeton a few weeks ago, my Uncle asked me where I wanted to go for dinner and I said "anything but American food", for we don't have particularly good ethnic food up here. We wound up going to exactly the kind of place I didn't want to go to, an anywhere in America American restaurant, the kind with an oversized, multi-page menu containing lots of nothing you've never heard of.

Where once you had to come to Maine to get a one pound platter of small fried shrimp, now you can get it anywhere, and that was the special of the evening. It figured.

As to my yearning for home, it doesn't consist of wanting huge platters of fried shrimp, now that I've lived in Maine as long as if I'd grown up here. Yes, as I wrote in my last post, I miss the farms surrounding Belfast and I hate seeing the McMansions that finally have stopped being built. I detest the garish signs for all the discount stores that have sprung up like poisonous fungi in every little town.

When I think of home, though, I think of family places. These are towns and houses where people grew up or the places where they've summered for generations. I envy people these places. Yes, envy isn't a very nice emotion, but I have it.

When I visited Bear Island, a large part of me marveled at having such a family history. The doors in the main house had plaques saying who had slept in each room when the house was first built. I couldn't imagine staying anywhere where I had such deep roots. I can't even begin to envision what that feels like. I suspect it is a great feeling, though I suppose it can be a burden in some way.

Dick has a family home. His sister lives in the house he grew up in and their mother lives right next door. This is so old fashioned. It occurs to me that outside of poor areas, both rural and urban, relations don't generally live near each other. For the "middle-class", it's not only common for families to be scattered, it's pretty much considered odd for them not to be, as if closeness denotes some kind of dependency.

I used to think this way, though I suspect that some of it, in my case, was a desire to get away from my family (which I would imagine is pretty common itself). But I've never had a home to go back to. My parents sold the house I considered home when I was still in high school, and they both had apartments. When my mother died, there was no place where any of us gathered, and by that time, noone was speaking to each other anyway, so what did it matter?

Recently, I looked at some pictures of the town I grew up in on the Web. I can see that the town has become more urban. And even though I absolutely loathed that town, there were places there that I loved. I wonder what's happened to them. I discovered that the "Poultry Mart", an absolutely fabulous take-out place that had (and probably still does) the best fried chicken and potatoes pancakes on earth (what a combination) is still there, in the same location. I have a large urge to visit, just to taste that food. I kid you not.

I'm chuckling to myself, for I realize that every place reference I've made is to food. There are other places that I've loved. The libraries where I've lived, both in childhood and in adulthood have always been special to me. The library in Hoboken, New Jersey, was particularly wonderful, for it seemed I was the only person who used it. It was my private realm. I often took out books that hadn't been off the shelves since they were signed out and dated in fountain pen. I often would wonder who it was who had read what I held in my hands and if they were still alive.

The original library in the town I grew up in was emptied and a new one built. My father used to rail on about it (and did the last time I saw him, for some reason). It maddened him that it was built in the rich and inaccessible part of town. He doesn't remember that the town did indeed have free public buses that ran frequently. I think he wouldn't have taken one of them even if he knew, for it would have made him look like he was one of the poor folks, not that driving our beat up GMC station wagon looked all that good in the lot besides all the shiny new cars. It didn't help that my father (like myself) didn't wash or clean out his car. Kids used to write "wash me" in the dust that settled on the car, which he avoided driving as much as possible.

I did not grow up in the car culture. I walked to the butcher, the green grocer, the deli, the bakery and the cheese shop (and the "Poultry Mart"). As far as shopping went, I might as well grown up in the 19th century. And when I moved to New York City, it was just the same. Walking home from college, or from work, I picked up my groceries while leisurely strolling home. I stopped at the same places every day and most of the storekeeps knew what I wanted, or at least knew my name.

I suppose this is why I was inordinately happy last month when the owner of the store here in my little town stopped me in the parking lot to chat for a while. I walked away with a huge smile on my face. There is so little community here in the boondocks. I shop at huge supermarkets at least a half an hour away where I never bump into anyone I know and noone will ever remember either my name or that I like Pete's tofu and pork (but not in the same meal).

My car is my lifeline. I hate it. Tomorrow is the last day before I need to get it inspected and registered. There's reason to think my inspection will fail and I can't afford the repairs nor the price of the excise tax we pay here in Maine. I would be delighted if I could hop on a bus or walk to everything I need to do, but it's impossible.

Well, folks, I'll end this here. It's not a coherent blog entry, but I've not been blogging much and felt like writing something. This is what you get. I'm guessing that when the weather starts to feel like Fall, which is not too far away, I'll be blogging up a storm. . .

Photo note: This photograph was taken in 1996. It says that the sign was on 6th avenue between 35th and 36th Streets, causing me to wonder if my memory of where the automat used to be was wrong. I realize that some of you perhaps do not know what an automat is. Is it possible?!

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