When my husband had a conference in Philadelphia last week, I jumped at the chance to accompany him because we used to live in the area a few years ago. Thirty two, to be exact. In fact, our youngest son was born in Bryn Mawr, a suburb of Penn’s fair city. We had many fond memories of our two years there and couldn’t wait to visit our old homestead and have lunch with old friends.
We flew into Philadelphia a day before the conference registration took place, and met our friends in our hotel lobby. I recognized them immediately, and they recognized George but weren’t too sure about me. That’s understandable because I actually look younger than I did all those years ago. (I was raising three children then. Need I say more?) They and my husband, however, look exactly like they did when we moved there in 1978. I swear.
Their faces have been obscured to protect the innocent: Me! I hate being upstaged by people who refuse to age. Plus, I didn’t ask permission to publish their photo.
On Sunday we rented a car so we could drive out to a few places that held good memories for us: Valley Forge, the college where my husband used to work, and our old apartment on Goshen Road in West Chester. Valley Forge looked pretty much the same, except it seemed to have more bike trails, and it had a new visitor’s center. We had trouble finding Washington’s Headquarters, though, as it wasn’t where we thought it would be. No, I don’t think they moved it. I think our memories moved it. We used to take our children on picnics there.
We left Valley Forge and headed to the college. Nothing looked familiar on the way over, and even the entrance to the school had changed. Many new buildings had been built since we left in 1980, and not much was recognizable. My husband’s little college had grown by leaps and bounds and had tripled in size in the thirty-two years we had been gone. We then plugged in our old address and drove out to West Chester to find our apartment. Without our GPS, we never would have found it at all. My husband had made the trip between the college and our apartment twice a day for two years, and he couldn’t find any landmark to guide him along the route. Would our old apartment even be there?
And then, we saw the sign and knew we had found the right place. But, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again.” Time had not been kind to our old abode. The grass was in need to cutting and everything needed painting. In general, it just looked run down. When we lived there, the apartments were filled with young families like us. Now they seemed populated by college kids from the nearby university. We found the address that had been ours, but it was hard to believe it was the same place we had once occupied with our three little ones.
We then drove into town, hoping it wasn’t as run down as our old home. We were pleasantly surprised to see that West Chester was actually even better than when we lived there. That sleepy little town we knew has become quite upscale with lots of shops and fine restaurants.
All in all, our day of nostalgia was a mixed bag, but we returned to Philadelphia satisfied that we had accomplished what we set out to do. Memory Lane didn’t need to be visited again.