On the way to dinner Saturday night, we did something we sometimes do: took a detour through Albany to view the streets and sites of my meager beginnings. When Canadian Lou asked why we so often make this detour, I told her, “So we can better understand me as a person.” Great! So we got off the Washington Avenue exit. A few traffic lights down, we took a left turn, entered the neighborhood where I was raised till age 9.
The basement apartment On Tremont Street I once called home was still there, shabby and sad, and the yard where I used to set up my lemonade stand and stuffed animals so they looked like little league baseball players, was much smaller than I remembered. But isn’t that how childhood sites always seem? Tremont Street was lined with cars, and the elementary school across the way has been remade into a magnet school, with a bright, brand new building. That’s all right with me because my foremost memory of that old playground was sidearming a flat rock, hitting a neighborhood kid in the eye with it when I was 7. His name was Dwayne, and he hated me after that. As we drove down Tremont towards Central, past Dwayne’s old house that looked like a small church, I remembered the last thing he ever said to me. I was over there watching THE WIZARD OF OZ, and he looked me right in the eye (this is a 7 year old, mind you) and said, “I know you meant to hit me with that rock.” And maybe he was right. Maybe I did mean to hit him. I’m sorry, Dwayne. I was a confused kid. On this Saturday evening, I was glad to get off Tremont, turn right on Central Ave, and put that memory in the rearview for a while.
After Bob & Ron’s Fish Fry we pulled into Orange Ford, because Canadian Lou wanted to look at Mazda Tributes for possible purchase. While I waited in the car on the Mazda side of the building, memories of my few years of being an Orange Ford employee filling my mind, I noticed that the attic office above the new showroom had been seemingly taken out with reconstruction, and a crossbeam was left in place. When I worked at Orange Ford, the attic office was where my uncle Dave managed, and I worked for him when I went to HVCC, growing into a young adult at a car dealership, while my friends did the same at 4-year schools. Dave was the commercial accounts manager until he died in 2000 of lymphoma at the age of 33. I have so many memories of that office, good and bad, and I still remember watching Dave at that desk in the back corner, working the sales phone till his final days, the sickness leaving him hairless, bone thin, and depleted of energy. Now the attic office is gone, which makes me sad, because as long as that upstairs office stood, there was still a small piece of Dave at Orange Ford. Now there’s none, physically at least. And that’s too bad, but it’s been 11 years, and life goes on, I suppose. Canadian Lou climbed in the car. We took off towards I-90.
As we passed the old GE Apparatus building below the highway where my father worked when he was alive, until dying at 54 of a heart attack, I noticed the big GE letters that were always there, familiar hangings of my father’s ‘work,’ had been taken down, and the only evidence of them were two faded spots high on the outside wall in the shape of a G and an E. It seemed fitting for our Saturday travels that day. First the office above Orange Ford where my uncle Dave worked his final days, then the GE building on Anderson Drive, where my father punched the time clock for 25 years, now an abandoned blue plant where a lonely American flag waves, empty parking lot in front. As time passes, the tangible parts of both their lives are fading away, poof, like they were never there at all. These were two men that played such pivotal parts in my life. Both dead, gone, too young, and the places that represented such large aspects of their identity, no longer stand. For the first time I realized that death is not a singular event, but a process that happens over time. First the person dies then the parts and pieces of their lives fade off into memory, until it’s forgotten or finished for good.
We finally made it to I-90 Exit 7, and headed towards Averill Park and my mother’s house, the house I lived at into my 20’s. As we approached the house, I saw the driveway filled with old cars I didn’t recognize. The backyard was busy with people I had never met before, my sister’s friends, gathered around a fire pit, drinking beers, doing that whole bit. When my father died in 2009, the look and feel of that house changed forever, and seeing those people partying around an open fire in the backyard I mowed every week for 20 years, the yard my family once enjoyed together on a quiet Saturday night, I felt my once rock-solid connection to that house had faded away as well, the same way as the attic office and GE letters. So we drove on in silence, continuing to our favorite restaurant in the world, the Villa Valenti, the place I’ve eaten Italian food for the past 20 years. The place I washed dishes, celebrated birthdays, rehearsal dinners, etc. And now I take Canadian Lou there at least once a month, because this place is such a huge part of what I am, and now it’s a huge part of her. And no matter how much time goes by, some things never change or fade away.
A free Villa dinner to the first person who friends me @ the Cat’s Pajamas on Facebook