Long Island, to be more specific.
It's where I grew up. A place full of fond memories, familiar smells, delicious foods, and ghosts of friends past. The friends aren't deceased, but the versions of them that exist in my mind are long gone. We are all older, balder, fatter, except for the ones with bad toupes and those who can't blink anymore because of one too many plastic surgeries. Judging by their Facebook profiles, many of them, like me, have moved off the island to settle elsewhere. Others didn't wander too many miles from home.
As the plane flew low today under the canopy of clouds covering Brooklyn, I watched the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island pass by. The skyline of Manhattan presented itself, the new Freedom Towers standing tall in the Financial District not far from Battery Park where I once attended an Earth Day celebration in the early 90s with college friends.
It's amazing to me how many baseball diamonds you spot from a few hundred feet up as you pass over Queens. In some places you can see six or seven fields all squeezed in next to each other with shallow outfields and barely any room for bleachers. Baseball was the sport I followed most closely during my formative years. The pastoral simplicity of the game, bursts of excitement punctuating a two-hour pitchers' duel, the crescendo of the crowd as the count runs to 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the tying run on second. It's a shame our nation is losing its patience for the game.
What strikes me hardest each time I return for a visit with family, or in this case for work, is the overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.
Maybe it all relates back to that same feeling you get when you return to your old elementary school. You'd swear someone came in and lowered all the water fountains and miniaturized the toilets. The cavernous hallways have narrowed and the ceilings hang far too low. Even the people seem smaller.
That's how every block looks to me as I drive through once familiar neighborhoods. Smaller, less familiar, less significant. The landmarks have all changed, empty lots now have two or three houses crammed onto them, and I unkowingly speed right by the house in which I spent the first two decades of my life. I can't even be sure I could walk the path from the old house to McVey Elementary School, something I did hundreds of times as a kid, without the help of my GPS.
A short time on Long Island is all it takes to remind me how much I enjoy the openness of my semi-rural North Carolina community. Much like my time in college at Plattsburgh, NY, I am smitten by the relaxed nature of the people and the elbow room we have between us.
I can't help feeling a little sorry for the people who never left Long Island, but I'm sure many of them would feel sorry for me for leaving, if they ever had cause to think about me. Long Island was a wonderful place to grow up, and there is nothing about my childhood I would change. I suppose, if we're fortunate enough, we all just naturally gravitate to the place we feel most comfortable.
If we're really lucky, there might even be a few baseball fields nearby.
© 2012 Mark Feggeler