During my walk through Traintrack Village, I stopped to say hello to Retired Principal and his wife, Mother of Six. They live in a house that’s more than hundred years old, on the corner near the Elementary School where Retired Principal used to work. They were just sitting down for an afternoon glass of wine when I arrived so they invited me to come in and chat. Their house is lovely, with hardwood floors and big windows. “The only problem with these windows is that’s no place to put furniture,” said Mother of Six. They’ve never had room for a couch, just a collection of chairs.
We sat near the front window, where we could watch anyone walking by on the street. “A bunch of young families have just moved onto the street,” said Retired Principal. “It’s fun to see little kids playing out there again.”
They were both eager to tell me about the 80th birthday celebration their kids had thrown last month for Retired Principal. They’d rented two buses that were designed to look like trolley cars, and the whole family – kids, grandchildren, and some of his siblings, about 40 people in all – had spent a whole day traveling around the small town where he’d grown up.
They stopped at the house he lived in as a child, and they all climbed out, peering in to the yard, brushing dirt off the sidewalk to look for initials. They stopped at the little church where he’d been an altar boy and at the bridge where he and his friends used to jump into the canal. “That bridge would make any parent nervous,” Mother of Six said.
Strangely enough, no one in the small town said anything at all when they saw this mob of people, all laughing and talking and wearing matching t-shirts, get out to gather on a street corner or in the cemetery or at what might seem a random house. “We got some looks,” Mother of Six said. “But mostly people just smiled. I think we looked pretty harmless.”
“We told stories all day,” Retired Principal said. “They’ve all heard my stories before, of course, but this time, I got to tell them in the places where they’d actually taken place.” He laughed, remembering, and I could tell what a success the birthday celebration had been, a whole weekend spent with family, telling and retelling the stories embedded in the landscape of his childhood.