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#96: Hometown

September 23, 2009

I was asked to whip somethin’ up about my hometown for a magazine I occasionally contribute to.  Ultimately the piece was not used, so I thought to plop it here, you know, because.  Thanks to my friend Ben who helped me edit it along the way.

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Portents of Inevitable Change

The town of Yorktown, NY was not long ago heralded as one of those places where traffic would stop for the farmer to guide his cows across the road— the main road that led directly to town— in the middle of the day.  Throughout my childhood a barn still existed along the side of Route 202.  That, if nothing else, proved that the legends must be true.  The barn is gone now, but so am I, for that matter.

I was born into a picturesque 19th-century carriage house in the woods, nestled next to a glorious estate with ancient yellow siding and great big black shudders, terraces and verandas, stonewalls and rolling meadows, the grand and hospitable likes of which you might think President Lincoln trod by and spent a fortnight at while en route to greater destinations sprinkled about the Union.  Our little carriage house toed the perimeter of the town limits, a town that was neutral during the Revolutionary War and a resting pad for both Patriots and Redcoats, named thusly after the decisive victory in Virginia.  It was rumored that George Washington himself had spent time in Yorktown, at least enough to make a lasting impression.

Some months after my birth my big sister and I were ousted from the cribs of our shared bedroom in the Old Yellow House and moved to suburban splendor (not yet associated with all-negative-things-sprawling) on the other side of town.  We had a massive tethered yard, both front and back.  There were many kids to play with in our new establishment, and to our repute there was a swing set and an above ground pool, absolutely glorious in comparison to the ancient and mucky stone pool at the foot of the old estate.  Our sportsmanship was honed beneath a nine foot basketball hoop at the base of the driveway.  We had prime positioning at the foot of a cul-de-sac and were known to host magnificent games of kickball and spud, memorable for their triumph and will.

Our home was conveniently located around the corner from the schoolyard, and by the time we reached five and six years and were walking to school each morning with bows tied in our hair and a charming cocker spaniel in tow, we had a fairly good notion of what it was to feel happy and be privileged.  Home was where our hearts were, in Yorktown.

Yorktown was the perfect place to raise a family and news of its joie de vivre must have traveled the four corners of the earth.  As actionable young families laid down their roots, our modest schools were restructured to accommodate the overgrown classrooms—an image that my childhood memory likes to play with, flimsily remembering limbs and small bodies hanging out of second story classroom windows.  A mysteriously defunct and partially dilapidated school, called French Hill (somehow rather eerie), reopened its great big doors after many years of destitution.  Children were again welcome in its once forgotten hallways.

The emergence of wanton new shopping plazas and modern home communities became routine.  They received their wings as our age-old favorites, part of what-once-was, disappeared into the ether.

The previously noted barn housed a single horse that for many years grazed peacefully outside in the corral, alongside the busiest road in town, while the borders of the farm continued to shrink.  The horse disappeared one day, casually and unnoticed, and life continued with little reason to mourn.  The road increased with traffic, and it was reconstructed to accommodate more travelers.

By the time that I was old enough to take a job at a small local grocer in the center of town, the midday cartage on our thoroughfare was so backed up that the sound of cars passing and horns honking came to provide a wretched song that we all came to know by heart.  Old timers seemed to surrender to greater forces, and let the lamentable lyrics roll off their tongue, “this place isn’t what it used to be.”

An unremarkable pandemonium settled itself amidst our fair town, noticeable only to those whose memories were stained with images of Yorktown’s past.

It has been years since I have spent time in Yorktown, though I occasionally find myself driving through with vivid memories of ballet class, the dentist’s office, unforgettable local faces, and aimless teenage pursuits.  But perhaps sentimental nostalgia is more suited to hometown heroes, not those merely passing through.  A Yorktown that does not exist anymore is etched in my mind.

My father moved away from Yorktown during my teen years and settled down against a mountain in a neighboring county more suitable for country living.  While at college in New York City, my mother left the house I grew up in for greater pursuits and the dry heat of the American West.  I can accept having been reduced to a passerby; an ephemeral member of a temporary home that was once in bloom and now is not.

Some guard their home as territory.   For others, home has no position on a map.  To me, it is intangible; a feeling that lives deep within and offers a new definition of comfort, safety, and belonging— something that can be carried along from place to place, wherever that may be.  And so, I hope that anywhere I may wander in life, I will come to find myself feeling at home… just where I am.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2009 9:36 am

    Nice piece, Dana! That mysterious magazine’s loss.

    Did the charming cocker spaniel graduate from your school, too?

    • indiansummervintage permalink*
      September 24, 2009 10:38 am

      Thank you M! One time when I was playing in the school yard I heard a girl yell, “look at that dog!” and when I did, it was my cocker, gallant as ever, out there on his own. I went home with him.

  2. September 25, 2009 7:22 am

    I though only border collies went to school. Now I’ve been schooled.

  3. daddy permalink
    September 26, 2009 7:45 am

    Great story and well written, made me nostalgic..
    can ya dig the pic of the Pacer & The Porcshe, looks like Wayne & Garth hangin out on the estate…

  4. James permalink
    October 16, 2009 1:46 pm

    This piece made me nostalgic too. I’m visiting my parents this weekend in Yorktown so it’s going to be lovely to reconnect with my past. But the town has changed too much from what I remember it to be in the late-nineties.

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