I’ve been driving a lot lately. I have had the privilege and workload that has caused me to traverse the state of New York the last three weeks. I have been to Salamanca, Albany, and Buffalo in the span of three weeks. I have given several public presentations of my work—and attended to numerous meetings on and off campus. I have been waking up really early to accommodate the needs of my classes—while not totally losing them or dismissing their instruction and learning from me.
I found the country road that I think I have long held in my memory as a picture-perfect place. The road was tree-lined, and kind of a rollercoaster type road. At least back in the days when I felt exhilarated by speed and the potentially of feeling the flip of the stomach from going over a small hill—testing out the suspension. And I think I have found it again—twenty-five years later. Though it now looks like nothing I remembered.
Where I remembered a tree-lined road, there are only some trees. Where there seemed to be woods all around, now there are houses scattered here and there on the road—along with a lot a lot more farm land. Did the trees go to make way for those farms? Or for those homes? Probably.
Reflecting on Life a little bit
So, I have been reflecting on life a lot lately. There are moments when those long-ago days feel and seem like just yesterday, a week or two ago, or at most a couple years back (in my memory). And I know things change intellectually; but I wasn’t quite ready for my memory to be just that—a memory.
And again, intellectually I know twenty-five years has passed since I lived in that area. Yet with the right visual images, the right random music that the cosmos in fact seemed to perfectly time for my road trips—it all brought back a flood of memories and raised those inevitable questions—where are those friends now from that lifetime ago?
But there were doubts that I’d actually reach those somewhat naïve and innocent goals in my life for a variety of reasons. One of which was having failed out of college as a freshman. I have wondered if others in my life from back then to had doubts about my aspirations of being a college professor—but hoped for me nonetheless.
Oh, those Pizza and Wings from ages ago
And while the rest of this entry could be about the differences between intellectually realizing things—and emotionally and spiritually engaging in them—it won’t be. As soon as I found my mystery memory road, I stopped at a little pizza place in Avon, NY for lunch. When I lived in Avon, above the laundromat, in a tiny study—as a college student, they were a staple of my diet. To see them still standing twenty-plus years later roused so many memories—some good, and well, some not so good that had nothing to do with pizza or the pizza place—but that is a different entry or chapter to write someday.
But in honor of all those years ago and that apartment above the laundromat—I had my beloved personal pizza and chicken wings. It doesn’t sound that unique—but if my memory isn’t too faulty—it was a small personal pizza (before they really took off in the fast-food pizza places today) and about three or four chicken wings—for about five or six dollars. Today, it is still a small personal pizza (that was a bit bigger than 20 years ago) and ten wings now for a modest price compared to those fast-food type pizza places.
Here-they made everything fresh and in front of me—which was how they did it all those long years ago. And the woman that took my order walked down memory lane with me-she told me she had been trying to tell her younger workers there had long ago been just such a deal of five dollars for the meal I ordered. She said she was trying to show them an old menu to prove her point—and I helped her do that—prove it was once the real deal. I laughed as I told her I lived for so long on that very meal. I think it was a fun trip down memory lane for both of us.
Life is an ever-changing thing. This wasn’t just about stopping and smelling the roses—or pizza and wings as the case may be—it was about thinking about my life as I journeyed to deliver a talk that night. And as I drove the country roads to and from my talk, I was flooded with memories, enthralled with the scenery, and wishing I had done that trip during the peak of the changing leaf colors of Western New York.
How life has changed
This trip, many of the trips in the last three weeks have taught me how far I have come in life. Back then, I was the college student who just returned home after the military. I was starting over again. Why? Because I had flunked out of Oswego as a freshman. I was embarrassed and ashamed of that—and the irony does not escape me, that for the last sixteen years, I have worked at the very college I started at as a freshman all those years ago—but failed out due to a variety of reasons.
Sometimes, failure leads you to a different path in life. Sometimes, a road trip allows you to dip your toes into the past without becoming trapped by the emotions of the past. And sometimes, just sometimes, it is still ok to roll down the windows of the vehicle, crank the tunes, and drive right on down memory lane.
Where will you drive today or soon with the windows down, music cranked, and dipping your toes in your own memory lane?