Memory Places

This past weekend we took the boys up to Maryland to visit their family up there. I am always struck by how different it is. It is a place of small towns and country living. Local restaurants that serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and everything is either fried or covered in gravy. it is the quintessential place where the rumor mill gathers to turn over their fried potatoes and fried chicken dosed in gravy. It is a good place where people still interact with people and there is a sense of identity that comes from living there.

When my wife and I were still dating and she was still living in this part of Maryland I loved visiting. Especially in the summer time when between Memorial Day and Labor Day there was a fair or carnival in one of these small towns. They worked on a rotation and Lara’s hometown was lucky enough to get the kick-off carnival for Memorial Day week. Fairs in Maryland are a little different than anywhere else. They have the candied apples and the kettle corn but they also have crab cakes and pit beef. There was always something special about fair season in Western Maryland.

Unlike myself my wife is someone with deep roots in her hometown because her hometown is a hometown. In the two days we were up there we ate at a couple small town restaurants, attended a rec league basketball game, and had breakfast at the fire hall. Every activity involved family, friends, community. Lara’s hometown is a place that changes slowly with deep roots. There are still people that live there with the names of the town founders and there are community events for every season of the year.

Lara’s hometown wasn’t the only stop on our trip. We did stop in my hometown as we were driving right past it, had to stop to see the boys, and were meeting a friend for lunch. If Lara’s memory place is largely unchanged because it is a place where change is slow and there is no need to change then my hometown is ever changing. Just look at where we stopped to eat lunch, Springfield Mall.

We ate at a chain Mexican restaurant, Chuy’s, which has excellent food but in none-the-less a chain built on the corpse of Bennigans. The entire entity that is now Springfield Town Center is built on the corpse of Springfield Mall. Springfield Mall is a place filled with memories for me. It is where my sister took me when she was forced to babysit me, it is where my mother went clothes shopping for me when I was a kid, it is where I sat on Santa’s lap, where I saw movies, and when I was a teenager it is where we hung out every Friday night.

Then the murders started. We stopped hanging out so much at Springfield Mall and started going to Fairfax Town Center to see movies and explore Tower Records, but we still visited Springfield Mall. We had friends that worked there and it was easiest to meet up with them there instead of making them drive across the county to a different movie theater. But things were closing down at Springfield Mall. First Taco Laredo went, then Gloria Jeans, then Another Universe, and finally Chesapeake Knife and Tool. At first other stores would take there place. Software Etc. became Babbages, became Gamestop, and then closed completely as the mall didn’t need two Gamestops. Eventually the mall was nothing but Footlockers and anchor stores. It looked like Silent Hill.

By that time we were adults. Friends had drifted away, and Springfield Mall was mostly a memory, but it had a pull. It was a place that was part of our childhood. Part of our growing up. We visited occasionally the way you do a dying relative hoping you catch them on a good day, and think of the times you spent when they were more aware. You ask them to squeeze your hand to let you know they’re listening just as we would wander into Time Out hoping they still had House of the Dead or Wrestlefest. But the signs were clear. Springfield Mall was nothing but shuttered storefronts and a food court. Then they resurrected the mall. The stripped out most of it. Put in a few high end restaurant chains and called it a Town Center.

This was our weekend. The boys visited Lara’s hometown that is much as it was. changing and growing slowly. And my hometown which has changed rapidly with much of it buried under asphalt, new strip centers, and a consistently redesigned I-95.

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