“Avalon,” is a lovely 1990 film directed by Barry Levinson. The movie depicts the generations of the Krichinsky clan, a Polish-Jewish family that immigrated and settled in Baltimore. In a touching scene toward the end of the film the lead character, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl shares a story with his grown grandson about a visit he took to his old neighborhood. Describing his walk, Mueller-Stahl frets about the absence of familiar buildings. Finally finding the childhood house of his now-deceased wife he reflects that it was a good thing (he found the house) because he thought for a moment that he “never was.”
Many places central to River of January also have passed into time. New construction, commercial and residential, has erased much of what once solidly stood. For Chum, the greatest eradication had to have been the airstrips and hangars of Roosevelt Field. That particular airfield meant a lot to him as it was the site of his 1933 Air Race. Today that area is all retail–the legendary field buried under department stores such as Coach, Anne Taylor, Sleep by Number, and the like. On the other hand, Helen’s Whitby Hotel on West 45th Street still stands, though remodeled into privately owned condos. I would also presume that many of the old vaudeville theaters, the Keith-Albee chain for example, are long gone. Public entertainment halls are simply vestiges of a distant past where the girl turned herself inside-out to entertain New York audiences.
I just returned from a visit to my old hometown. Though elderly, my folks still live in the house of my childhood, a place I more frequently visit in my dreams. On this actual trip we drove a little around the old neighborhood. In the 1960’s, when I was a kid, my friends and I often walked to the grocery store, or a nearby soda shop called “Woodies.” It had an unauthorized drawing of Woody Woodpecker on the front sign, and inside we played pinball and bought penny candy. In later years, hard economic times hit the area and gang sign was more prevalent on old buildings than prosperous businesses within. The grocery store closed, and shortly after Woody’s went out of business.
But now, what a change! A British-themed pub sits on the corner where once stood the drugstore that sold us our Marvel comic books. Across the street a new high-end pizzeria, complete with outdoor dining, twinkling lights and live music–where in an earlier time a full service gas station checked oil, filled tanks and handed out Green Stamps. And the old Woodies now? It’s a hole in the ground.
My folks still reside in the old house, though they too have repainted and remodeled. My mom took the opportunity of our visit to let me know that her beautiful re-done kitchen will be an asset when we sell the house. All I could say was, “Where are you two going to live.” She only smiled.
There is nothing we can do to stop time, (even Botox is no shield). I pray that I can still recognize where I am in that part of Spokane as the months and years continue to blow by. I want to be able to identify the place where I once was.