Haunted By The Familiar

A few months ago, we moved back to my old hometown. The reasons aren’t particularly important right now. But here I am back on the familiar roads that I trained on through high school, haphazard training for a single cross-country season each year, that I ran on periodically after I got married and was starting to worry about that ever growing lump of fat around my middle parts, and that my dad and I shared many slow runs on as I was introduced to running as a grade schooler.

Yesterday, I ran past where my old house used to be. No, there will never be a “Birth Place Of” sign posted by the National Preservation Society next to the door of my old house – one, because I don’t run fast enough to get on a Wheaties box, and two, because it’s no longer there. It burned down a few years ago after the guys who bought it from my parents left a candle burning next to a curtain. There’s a new house there now, bigger than the piece of land that it sits on, a square box that tries to look like an old sea captain’s Nantucket-style saltbox with a make-believe widow’s walk on the roof, but it’s over a mile to the water and it doesn’t succeed. It’s just a box tucked in behind the fire station. The fire station used to blow its whistle every day at noon. The old people complained about that so it doesn’t any more. The fire station used to be staffed by volunteers who would practice fire calls once or twice a month. It isn’t staffed by volunteers any more. The town didn’t feel safe leaving something as important as fire safety in the hands of volunteers. Now and then, a wagon full of traveling gypsies pulled by a horse would make its way slowly down route 28. Now the gypsies travel in beat up Chevys and Hondas and Fords and route 28 doesn’t move slower than 40 miles per hour.

Yesterday, I ran past where my old house used to be. There was a young boy of about 8 standing under the tree, the tree that I stood under, waiting for the bus. He’s probably the first to wait for the bus there since I did over 30 years ago. The guys who burned my old house down didn’t have kids and the other two houses, one smack in the middle of the vacant field where I used to play every day, are new enough so that he’s probably part of the first family that’s been in the area for a long time. He stood silently under my tree and watched me go by. Does he know what shoes he has to fill by standing under that tree waiting for the bus? An honor degree in high-school, studies in physics and math and astronomy, roamings around western Massachusetts with old friends and friends recently found, and most importantly, many, many miles logged on the roads and through the backwoods of lower Cape Cod. Will his shoes run these same roads and log as many miles? Will he bike the neighborhood, over and over again delivering newspapers? Will he run from Chatham to Harwich to Brewster to Orleans for 3 hours on a Sunday morning and revel in the fact that he was actually able to make it home without assistance from an ambulance? Without a doubt, these are large shoes. These are my shoes. I continue on down the hill. He stands silently and watches me go by as he waits for the bus. Maybe …

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