Life is full of distant trails, paths that we once walked now covered by the leaves of time. Some we recognize immediately, while others are like a faded picture upon which we fix our gaze and wander through the halls of our own recollection trying to find the memory.
I like to travel these trails. I rode down one tonight. I went back to Madison, IN, my hometown, to visit my mother. Unfortunately, I did not call her to insure she would be home or awake. I wanted to surprise her. Instead, it was my surprise. She was home, but obviously in bed asleep as her car was in the driveway but all the lights were out. I pondered a moment on my own predicament and decided to wander down some distant trails.
I drove "downtown" to my childhood stomping grounds. Most of the houses on Third Street still looked the same...weathered and tired. I reined in though when I saw Lydia Middleton Elementary School. It was changed! The playground in the back of the school was gone, replaced by a huge new section of classrooms. Gone was the towering Hickory tree that once stood proud and strong shading us kids as we played dodgeball. Gone was the basketball courts I dreamed in, practicing to play for the ABA Kentucky Colonels. Gone was the window in which the old janitor lady, whose name I can no longer remember, but whose girth and warm smile I shall never forget, rang the bell that indicated recess was over. It was on that playground I kissed my first girl...I believe her name was Teresa...her parents owned a tavern in town and my parents strongly disapproved when I told them she was my girlfriend. I remember, too, that it was on that playground now buried under tons of brick and steel that we chanted "Kennedy, Kennedy, he's our man. If he can't do it, nobody can." That same playground was where I first learned of his assassination as well.
For a moment, I longed to walk on that playground one more time, to play again in the leaves that used to gather in the northwest corner, to feel the firm grip of Mr. Taylor's hand against the back of my neck as he guided me into his principal's office to discipline me for doing something wrong and promising me it would go on my "permanent record." But, I could not. Change had struck again.
I continued my wandering. Passing the house on Third Street in which a portion of my childhood was housed, I noticed how the new owners had cared for it. My eye caught a movement in the darkness. Someone was sitting on the front porch in a swing. I wondered if it could be the very swing in which I used to sit. I wondered, too, if they were pondering some lost past in their life as well. The movie theater, Roger's Drug Store, Mill's Department Store, Demaree's Men's Shop, the Courthouse, the Jail, the riverfront, the house on Main Street, the treehouse in the neighbor's yard, the alley, Second Street, my paper route, the Power Plant, Hanover Hill, Highway 62...all distant trails...all dusty with time...all changed.
As I drove back toward Jeffersonville, I wondered if given the opportunity would I go back? Could I go back? I pondered the possibilities. I finally decided that I would not go back if I could. Change has taken its toll in Madison, but more importantly, change has taken its toll in me. I must learn to be content with the horse I ride and the trail I'm on. And as for distant trails, I'm content to let memory's evening sun set over their horizon and close my eyes to dream of their experience. Besides, I kinda like the trail I'm on now.