When our car was directly in front of it, I pulled it over to the side of the road, pushed the brake down to stop and placed the gear in park. My sister and I stared through the car windows at the house and yard in front of us in disbelief. For a few moments, a single sound was not uttered. We just sat there while our memories over-flooded our minds like a raging river does its banks. We rolled down our windows to make sure they were not distorting our view. Finally our silence was broken when we both exclaimed, almost in unison, “Can you believe it?”
My sister and her family were in town and we decided that she and I would break away to visit the neighborhood where we grew up and reminisce about days gone by. From time to time, we do it just to get that warm and fuzzy feeling that comes when you drive down the same streets where you used to run, play and ride your bike.
Even though our former house sat in the same exact place it always had, the yard had apparently shrunk incredibly over time. “Can you believe how small the yard is?” I asked my sister. “Where is the rest of it?” she replied. Through our eyes as children, that yard was humongous — especially when we had to cut the grass or pick up pecans from under the trees!
From our vantage point, we carefully took it all in. As if we were casing the joint, we covered every square inch of the property. I saw on the front lawn where I had hosted my former talk show when I was only 10 years old. I saw the driveway and remembered as a very small child accidentally placing my mother’s car out of gear while she darted back into the house and taking a solo ride down the hill and into the fence across the street. I looked for my treehouse in the backyard, but it was long gone. In fact, I wondered how the tree that was still standing could have possibly supported my summer retreat way up in the sky.
Memory after memory exploded like popcorn and, with each one, my sister and I began every sentence with these four words: “Do you remember when?” Once we finished visiting our homestead, we decided to continue our journey down memory lane by driving by our old elementary school, church and by our childhood friends’ houses. Even though everything was exactly in the same place, it all seemed a bit surreal.
As we drove, we remembered our first cars, dates and specific events. Over our growing up years, we had burned up those paved streets as we traveled through life. Our cars were hand-me-downs that made weird noises and broke down on occasion, but always managed to get us where we wanted to go.
One of the places we drove to was our neighborhood NuWay. Almost every day after school we would drop by NuWay on our way home. There was something so refreshing about a frozen chocolate malt that somehow helped us make the transition from classroom to home. NuWay was still there so without even thinking about it, we pulled up to the drive-thru window. For a moment, we became children again coming home from school scurrying to get our coins together as we ordered our chocolate malts. While we continued sipping our milkshakes, we drove by where we went to the dentist, bought our groceries and played on neighborhood playgrounds. Continuing our adult journey through childhood, our milkshakes began to melt but our memories continued to solidify.
In our minds, the decades flew by like airplanes from Robins Air Force Base did over our homes back then. We drove past the remains of Westgate, the first mall we had ever seen. We reminisced about Newberry’s, Hefner’s Bakery and the fountain in the middle of the mall. Then we made our way to Macon Mall. My sister and I both had worked there at Sears in our teens and vividly remembered its grand opening in the mid 1970s.
Both of us tried to remember the name of several unique eateries that used to be in the mall. Try as we might, we couldn’t and it was driving us crazy! These days those little blips in memories can easily be refreshed with the click of a button on a computer — something that, no matter what street we drove down, was not present all those years ago. Thank God for current technology! From my iPhone I reached out to my wonderful friends on Facebook and literally in a matter of seconds, I not only found out the answers we needed but also started a wild fire of memories among my south Macon friends.
You see, those of us who grew up in the zip code 31206 have always stuck together! We were raised in a very unique, close and special neighborhood. One I wouldn’t trade for anything.
None of us had very much but we didn’t know it! In fact, I proudly refer to it these days as simply ‘06’. Anyone who also grew up there knows exactly what those two numbers mean.
My sister and I were somewhat exhausted as we pulled into my current driveway. We had definitely been on a trip. In just those few hours, driving around in our car, we had grown up again!
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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; fax them to (478) 474-4930; call (478) 757-6877; e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or befriend Mark on Facebook.