Westford, Vermont is a town so small it may not even be on a map, but it has made a huge impact in my life. It was in that town where I spent my younger years, and it was where many happy childhood memories were made.
Reminiscing about our old home one evening with my brother brought a wave of homesickness for the old neighborhood, so I decided to drive out to Westford and take a look around. I parked my car near the little bus shelter at the beginning of the dead end dirt road and got out. The trees around me were covered with bright red and yellow leaves swaying gently in the breeze, and the air held a faint smell of winter. It would not be long before everything would be covered with snow and the pine trees, heavy with their white burden, would hang their heads making neat, cozy forts underneath their boughs.
I strolled over to the wooden bus stop and stepped onto the open porch so I could look inside. It seemed much smaller than I remembered and I had to duck when going through the narrow doorway. The windows were still broken, having been cracked by rocks thrown by some mischievous boys waiting for the bus many years ago. The walls still had carvings and pictures drawn by the bullies of the neighborhood, the ones who loved to pick on the younger, more helpless kids – like me.
When I returned back outside, I noticed a sign over the doorway that said, “Birch Ridge Road.” The sign was new; I wondered how many changes I would find along my journey.
I walked slowly down the dirt road pitted with potholes filled with muddy water. A few birds sang to me as if they were greeting me and asking why I had taken so long to return to my old home. Each house seemed the same; there were only about 17 houses on the entire street and the only ones that ever drove up the road were the few who lived there and then of course, the mailman.
The trek up the road did not seem as long as it had when I had walked it twice a day to get to the bus stop and then back again at the end of the school day. I remembered how frustrated I always became when my older brother, eager to share the news of the day with my mom before I could, ran up the road with his friends leaving me in the dust.
Before long I found myself at the bottom of the ‘big hill.’ To my left was the small volleyball court, with the old net rotting and hanging off the metal frame. The blackberry field on my right was overgrown and filled in with new trees and I wondered if anyone picked the juicy berries there anymore. We always had blackberry cobbler or made blackberry jam with the pints I would pick and bring home.
As I hiked up the steep incline, I thought back to all those times my family had trudged up the hill during snowy winter nights, arms full of grocery bags because our car had stubbornly decided it would not go any further up the icy hill. The old barrel at the bottom was rusty and did not appear to have any dirt inside it anymore. Maybe people did not need it these days with their four-wheel drive vehicles. Back then all we had was a monster station wagon that held our large family of eight.
When I reached the top, I was out of breath, but that was soon forgotten as I arrived at the spot where most of my memories came back to life. My friend’s house was just off to my right, near the path that led up to the old beaver pond far in the woods. A wooden house sheltered the two mailboxes at the bottom of her driveway. That had been our meeting places, oftentimes, after dinner was done and my chores had been finished. I had ridden my bike to the mailboxes many times, waiting for her to come out and play. Her brothers always came to hang out with my brother, and soon, all five of us would be happily riding up and down the road on our bikes, playing Hide ‘N Seek, and Geronimo! in the grass behind my mailbox. A few other friends always joined us when they saw us and joined in the fun too.
Finally, I reached the top of my old driveway. I stopped as I took in the scene below me. It was hard to see through the growth of the trees surrounding the U-shaped driveway, so I began walking to the other side of the driveway. An island of trees separated the two halves and as I walked by, and as I passed by the old birch tree swing, the sound of children laughing stopped me in my tracks. I turned around, expecting to see one of my old friends waiting for me on his bike. To my disappointment, I found I was alone, with only my mind playing tricks on me.
I reached the other half of the driveway and gazed down at my old house. It was still the same color grey, but a porch had been added onto the front where only a few steps had once been. A tall fence, painted the same color of the house, hid the woodshed my dad had built. It also hid the little stream that had been one of my favorite play sites during the spring when it was bubbling madly from the winter thaw. Long, thick grass covered the old basketball court, and gone was the old fire pit where we had roasted marshmallows and began many games of Flashlight Tag during the warm summer months.
Tears filled my eyes as I noticed the old apple tree in the front of the living room window. It had grown during the last few years, and was covered with red and yellow apples, which I knew from experience, were sour and full of worms. There were not any bird feeders hanging from the branches anymore, but I could see a little chipmunk sitting on one of the rocks below, chattering at something nearby. I had sat for hours watching the birds and little critters eat the seeds we put out for them, and had gained the trust of the Chick-A-Dees which would eat right out of my hand.
It was growing late so I hurried down to the end of the road, eager to see one more place that was special to me. It was the ‘rock’ as we used to call it, which had trees for climbing, a shallow frog pond, and a worn out path from riding our bikes up and down it. Many evenings had been spent on that rock, as we played games and made exciting plans for the next day’s activities.
The rock looked the same, except for the path which was covered with grass and moss. Seeing the path all grown in signaled to me that even though most everything seemed the same, changes were happening all over the place. Many of my childhood friends had moved away – there was not going to be any more evenings of sledding, bonfires, baseball games, or bicycle rides after dinner. A strange feeling came over me, making me wish I could press a rewind button and go back to those innocent, carefree days. All that was in the past now; gone were the days of crayons and toys. A new generation would come and take my place. Now was the time to begin a new phase of life – it was time to make new memories. Yet, one thing I know: my childhood memories would always be my favorite, because they were the ones that only a child could make.