Thursday, March 20, 2008

Going down Memory Lane: Literally

Oh My God! The most amazing thing has happened. After 33 years, the township has finally named the road near my house. Even better is that they didn’t call it after a tree or some piece of fruit -- I once lived on a Cherry Street. Instead, they named it after a herb.


Brilliant punctual politicians! I never thought I would see the day.

Tee-hee. Tee-hee.

All joking aside, this has been a long time coming. An eagerly anticipated spot now marked on the map as “You are here.” My herb road now distinguished from all the other backwoods trails meandering through my county where a person can get lost while expecting to drive over moonshine jugs and hear the off-key twangs of hillbilly banjos. With it graduated from a 6-number state route, no longer must I endure the puzzled stares when I give someone the address, as if I deliberately told them directions to Mars.

My little road has grown up. Almost.

Like scrapbook memories, I can remember when the road (and myself) was young. A time when my parents forbade me to ride a bike because the speed limit always seemed suspended whenever a car appeared from the main drag. The route’s barely two-vehicle width never had much pedestrian traffic, and unfortunately the hilly countryside did not permit room for a curb or sidewalk. Whenever my parents did allow me on the road, it was only at a certain time of year.

I always knew the day had come by the knock on the door as the neighborhood kids stood there with grinning faces and coins jingling in pockets. They would shout, “Let’s go pick blackberries!” (No, I’m not talking about the phones.)

So, with my dingiest sneakers on, my feet made that transition from the driveway into freedom. Puffs of white dust encircled walking steps as chipped stones and a drop of tar became the surface that the seven of us would march across for the next twenty minutes. Sometimes along our adventure, we startled a scurrying woodchuck (which is another name for groundhog to y’all city folk) as we ignored our parents’ hygienic paranoias when involving food in contact with nature. Enthusiastically, we popped those dusty berries in our mouths and slurped at lips to catch the juice before it stained tee shirts.

During this binging, everyone would occasionally dodge a falling tree branch weakened by storms and toss the limb into the back of a passing pickup for the new owner to use as firewood. Then we carefully hurried around our version of Dead Man’s Curve, where a steep drop-off and no guardrail invited all drunk drivers to take its sharp corner fast. After this was our uphill trek around the church, down another side road, through the bushes and along an animal trail, to reach our destination.

A store.

Yet it was a special store, because you could not fit it into only one retail category - like a Walmart without the annoying blue vests. Metal fasteners and plastic elbow pipes occupied shelves next to flimsy costume jewelry. A display of hard candy that might have once been bubblegum back in the Stone Age stood near a pop machine that had good and bad days on whether it would work. Found year-round, rakes and snow shovels leaned against the wall between Easter baskets and illegal fireworks. Lawn gnomes on garden chairs made a space for a box marked $12 each where plaintive whines from adorable puppies pulled at heartstrings.

After we made our purchases and petted the pups, we would sit on the cement stoop while the galvanized rubber of our sweets softened on tongues. There, we sipped at sodas and watched the cars speed by on a real road -- a highway. Its name the number 2 repeated, this four-lane route stretched unimpeded toward the west horizon. Somewhere along the concrete divider, the long pavement passed another route that had six lanes, as they led to a city of crowded streets where at a point three rivers meet: Pittsburgh.

Since it wasn’t a day to take THAT journey, we dusted off pants and threw empty cans in the trash. While the sun slowly neared the treetops, and with no street lamps along our road, we quickly said our goodbyes to the store owner and took our sugar-filled stomachs home before dark.

Sigh. Now I must say goodbye to those times.

Today, my herb road is showing its grown-up airs. Groomed tree branches arch over the path creating a green gateway into our valley. The township has cut back the roadsides to allow more space for passing cars, and unfortunately the bushes that held delectable fruits are gone. Real asphalt covers the ground, along with the cracking ruts of future potholes, and speed limit signs are up for those few people who want to actually read them before baseball bats swing at the abused metal. The special store has long ago packed its assortment of goodies and moved on. Or rather, they got busted by the state police for selling those illegal fireworks to kids – but that’s another story I might one day tell.

Still, some things haven’t changed near my house. We don’t have street lamps. We don’t have sidewalks, or curbs, or a guardrail for the Dead Man’s Curve. Pedestrians are still scarce when it comes to foot traffic, and drivers still have to avoid the woodchuck families dashing across the cement path.

But at least my road has a name. Fennel.

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