Some years ago, I decided to take a drive to the neighborhood where I was born and where I spent the first seven years of my life. I have some solid memories of it, the apartment where we lived, the hallways of the six story brick buildings that lined the blocks from corner to corner. Even the el that ran along Livonia Avenue and the clacking of the trains on the tracks that shadowed the storefronts underneath.

When I told him where I planned to go, my older brother had warned me that the buildings along our old block had been torn down and that there was only a huge field of rubble. I understood but somehow had this image of parking nearby and walking over to pick up any odd piece of brick where my apartment building stood – as if I was visiting some public archeological dig where anyone could take away souvenirs.

But when I got there, those buidlings that stood shoulder to shoulder were not only gone but replaced by two story mass manufactured townhouses stretched barrack style down the block. It was not just changed but a sanitized version of what I remembered. Even the apartment house on the opposite side where my future brother-in-law lived had been replaced by a public garden behind locked steel gates. I wondered why they called it a public garden.

The schoolyard was still there although much smaller than I remember – especially not that vast concrete landscape where I taught myself how to ride a two wheeler. And the rooftop greenhouse was still up – although to this day, I have no idea what was inside.

I felt oddly depressed – I had high expectations. Change is one thing. But complete erasure is another.

I followed a map to where my father’s Gulf station stood. I was surprised that it was so close – which explained why he would show up on some lunchtimes to take me on a ride on his army green painted scooter. He would stand me up on the platform held between his knees, I’d grab onto the center of the handlebars, and we would visit some of the store-owner friends he had on Pitkin Avenue. Most times he would stop at the local butcher shop where he would pick up thick bats of salami that he would turn rock hard by hanging them up behind the bedroom door in the apartment. There was no place we lived that didn’t have a stained door, an artifact of a meal that is now a long abandoned treat.

But the service station was gone. The area was now surrounded by a cinder block wall and when I finally reached a gap where I could see inside, I realized it had been turned into a chaotic truck depot and junkyard with all vestiges of the station – repair garages, pumps, and office – removed.

Nostalgia is an ache because it is not just a remembrance – but an immersion into the sights, sounds, and smells of something longed for but unattainable. The pain is not that it existed – but that it can never again be touched or held.

Yet the small comfort is that it did exist – and it can be revisited merely by closing your eyes and remembering…

 

© Jeff Kopito

[Note – the above is a manufactured image..what is real has long disappeared…]

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