Looking back on my childhood, I draw
the conclusion that my three sisters and I grew up in an almost
Throughout his adult life, my father worked hard to provide for his family. The tradition of the husband provider and the wife home keeper was embedded in the culture of the time, and my father was successful in providing his family a comfortable home. My mother took her home duties seriously, and none of us ever missed a home cooked meal or went to school wearing torn clothes.
Though my father worked hard practically
fifty weeks out of the year, he determinedly set aside at least two weeks every
summer for our family to take a Vacation.
I capitalize that word because to us kids it was more than just a trip;
we were to travel to our version of
We drove through the little town, and we
kids got more excited by the minute as we saw swimmers, boaters, and other kids
running and screaming like wild banshees.
It had taken us nearly two days to get there from
Now, I realize that the name is not very impressive. Today, to impress someone with your vacation plans, you must mention Disneyworld, Hawaii, St. John,
Needless to say, over the years we’ve had many memorable times in Noel,
but in 1957, and event took place that at the time didn’t seem like much, but
it is actually the basis on which this little essay is established. It was June of 1957, and as usual we were all
in the stream’s water having a glorious time.
Just about a hundred feet upstream from where we played was a bridge
over which ran the road to
My mother always had a mantra she believed in: “Fools’ names and fools’ faces always appear in public places!” For some reason both Dad and I forgot Mom’s observation and we scraped our names and the date on the side of the bridge. “Bobby Downing 6/27/57” “R L Downing 6/27/57” In a few minutes we lost interest and returned downstream to the rest of the family and enjoyed the rest of the day. In time we forgot about our actions. I was 14 years old and Dad was 39.
Starting in 1950 and for nearly 30 years, Noel was a summer gathering place for our family. Eventually I had three sisters to compete with, and believe it or not, my wife and I spent our honeymoon at Green Valley Courts in 1961. In time our children came along and both of them have made pilgrimages to Noel. Although Green Valley Courts disappeared in the seventies after being converted to small apartments, we continued to visit Noel, although we had to stay in “less satisfactory” accommodation…i.e., no stream to play in.
In the mid-seventies, my family moved to
In 2007, my wife and I visited
After we drove over the bridge, I pulled the car off the road and stopped. I’m sure Shirley thought I had lost my mind when I told her what I was going to do. I took my camera and tried to find a path down to the stream. By this time the stream was barely visible through the bushes, grass, and shrubbery. I also thought about water moccasins because they are plentiful in that area of the hills. Gingerly I climbed down the embankment to the water, and, finding no place to walk along the edge, I put my nice, white sneakers into the water and waded out. The water was just as cold and clear as I remembered. I was a little upstream of the bridge, so I waded down toward the concrete embankment, keeping a sharp eye for land or water varmints. I reached the bridge and, walking underneath, looked up.
Fifty years later, the names were still clearly visible (see photo.) I placed my hand on the letters and suddenly my eyes filled with tears. For a moment I longed to return to those innocent days of youth, and my heart ached to see my mom and dad. Only one other time in my life have I ever felt as lonely as I felt under that bridge that day. It almost felt like judgment day when I realized that the words on the bridge were written when I was only fourteen and my future was ahead of me, and now I was sixty-four and the majority of my life had passed, ever so quickly it seemed. I made a quick summary of my life’s accomplishments, and the list seemed so embarrassingly short. Looking further down the stream, the little area where we children and parents used to play and laugh was choked with vines and weeds, but in my mind, I saw it as it once was. I was reminded of the scripture, ” For what is your life? It is but a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
Eventually, after taking a few photos, I came to the realization that I have been very fortunate. My childhood was the stuff of dreams…. not wealth and riches, but rather a home with caring parents and loving sisters. We have gone our separate ways and now have our own families and dreams. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife, children, grandchildren, and even in-laws. We have created our own special places and memories. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his story The Great Gatsby, “You can’t go home again.” In 2012 I returned to the bridge; my name and my dad's name were still there...fifty-five years after the event. I have had a good life.