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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010 12:15 pm

Memory is a heady thing

Lanphier Class of 1955

I left the Island Bay Yacht Club at Lake Springfield about 10 p.m. and headed west toward the new access to 55 North. While pondering, I missed it due to new roads, so, I kept driving west on Toronto Road. When I reached Second St., I turned right. The black sky cracked open and lighting crashed down into the fields.

Slowing to a stop, I sat there in the empty glistening road, watching a magnificent light storm. We don’t have these in southern California, where I now live. Sometimes, we have rain, but it just seeps out of leaden skies, no theatrics. I had forgotten.

My visit to Springfield this time was prompted by my 55th Lanphier High School class reunion. Our numbers are dwindling but those who were there appeared in good health and high spirits. In short order, the years fell away and past conversations resumed. The usual guys stood in a group, tossing jokes and smart remarks. The whole event, organized by our alumni who still live in Springfield, was carefree and delicious, too. Some of the talk spun around the old neighborhoods, where no one of us lived anymore. I decided to drive around the next day into bygone times.

Did you ever notice how when you leave someone or someplace, you expect everything to be exactly the same when you return or is it just me? The past wasn’t there anymore. Yes, some of the houses are still there – but decidedly in decay.

Our family lived in many places, depending on what was happening in the world and how it affected my father. He was a railroad man. In my early years, he worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. I learned much later that my great grandfather, Henry S. Barron, also worked for the ICRR. But he is known in the annals of history in the U.S. Supreme Court case: Barron v Burnside, and that, as they say, is another story.

Our father, the railroad man, introduced us to the railroad early. Once we visited daddy’s caboose. I suppose my world was smaller then, confined to our house and what our father was doing. Shiny and well-used train tracks seemed to run all over town and off to adventure when I was small. Now, those I drove past, rusted from disuse, seemed to go nowhere. Near those tracks, when I was three I had perched on daddy’s shoulders and listened to John L. Lewis fire up a crowd of miners and other working men. It was an exciting day.

Now, I drove through my past lives all over the north side of town. The houses in neighborhoods near Sangamon Avenue were old and shabby but I could see the children playing were unaware. This was home. They were into the business of playing.

In another neighborhood where we had lived for three years, north of Lanphier High School, I was shocked to see the physical decline of the homes. Shingles falling, porches sagging and paint long gone. Then, I drove south of North Grand on 11th St. The seven blocks that my brother, Dickie, and I walked to Lanphier High and home again were in ruin. Practically two thirds of our square block is empty of houses. Although I must say the aluminum siding that a tin man sold my mother almost 60 years ago still looks good… comparatively.

I guess I was feeling loss. You know, sorrowful that nothing remained the way it was. Hey, now that I think of it, it’s the story of life. Sort of like that feeling I get when I catch sight of my reflection in a window glass. Who’s that? ... Good grief!

A native of Springfield, Barbara Barron has lived in Los Angeles for 40 years, where she worked as an actor in TV and film. Ten years ago, she began writing poetry and short stories. Currently, she is writing a memoir. Contact her at barron.works@gmail.com.

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