Do you see that empty space in the picture where a house used to be? That’s where our second house in Pensacola was — the one where the “who-moved-the-belt incident” took place.
After writing about it Saturday, I suddenly became curious whether the house was still there. According to this satellite image from Apple Maps, it’s just white sand where that house stood.
I don’t know why, but this makes me feel as though I’ve lost something. The memories are still there, but there was something more tangible about them when I could have gone to the house and shown you the specific places where my story took place.
Why does it bother us so much to lose places with which we associate our past?
Buildings come and go. Ownership of land changes. The physical environment changes around us all the time. But isn’t there something in most of us that makes us feel that some things shouldn’t change?
Have you ever noticed that the members of local historical societies — the ones who are obsessed with preventing old buildings from being torn down, among other things — are mostly older people? When I worked at newspapers as a young man in my 20s, I was disdainful of them. We mockingly called them “hysterical societies,” because they seemed to be hysterical about any change. Many of their members seemed motivated by the desire that nothing in the built environment change.
I’m finally starting to understand those people. At least a little.
Some very important small pieces of my life took place in that little house — some you’ll never know about — and there was something comforting about knowing it was still there. I have no idea why. I just know that I suddenly want to go back to that little house and stand in some of those rooms — something I used to do every day — just to feel connected to the past.
I realize it’s ridiculous. I know there’s no significance to the house being gone. I know that someone owned it and had every right to tear it down.
But still. There’s a strange emptiness in my gut now that I know it’s gone.
I guess we’re all hypocrites about such things at times. We love to see old eyesores being torn down, but we rarely think about the memories being lost by the people who’ve lived in a place or worked there. The memories are still in our heads — so that sounds absurd — but it still feels like loss.
Now that I know this house is gone, I’ll tell you one more brief story — about the day we moved into that house.
In the earlier years of my childhood, my family had been solidly middle class, trending toward upper middle class for some of the communities where we lived. My father’s job with Southern Railway — as an executive in the Safety Department — paid him very well.
But after my parents’ divorce, he left the railroad and we spent several years having serious financial issues. We were at the height of those issues when we lived in Pensacola.
(There was a time while we lived there that he went to the manager of a grocery store and asked him if he would extend him some credit for groceries until he got paid. He had us in the store with him as sympathy props. We were humiliated when the man yelled at us to get out of his store.)
We didn’t realize just how bad things were while we were living in our first house there. It was on Panferio Drive, just a few doors down from the famous “spaceship house.” (The owners let me inside that house to look around a couple of times. I had no idea it was well-known.)
My sisters and I rode a school bus into the city — to terrible inner-city schools — and we returned home one afternoon to find our father waiting for us in the driveway.
He was there to tell us we had moved while we were gone to school. He hadn’t been able to pay the rent, so we were being evicted. All of our worldly possessions had been moved to another house about a block away. It was embarrassing to try to explain to our neighborhood friends why we had suddenly moved — and why we hadn’t known anything about it.
The stories of our past are so much a part of who we are. These stories are part of what made me and what left me with issues to deal with. It’s hard to explain that to anyone, but it somehow helps when you can point to a spot and say, “You know that thing I told you about? It happened in this room. I stood right here.”
I feel that way even though the rational part of my brain says it’s irrational. I guess the people of all those “hysterical societies” I’ve dealt with felt something similar — an irrational fear of losing their own past.
I’ll get over it, of course. I haven’t been back to the house since I was 12. I’m sure I never would have gone there again. But as I look at this satellite view — and look at Santa Rosa Sound at the top, where I walked alone along that beach so many times — I have an odd feeling that I’ve lost something that can’t be replaced.
It gives me a strange sense of urgency about replacing some of my ugly memories with new memories of family that can make the losses feel worthwhile.