October 24, 2020

A Rich World of Life and Stories and Friends and Imagination

Monroe St House 2

They say you can’t go home again, and they’re right. But you can visit, and sometimes that’s enough.

Last weekend, I went back to Galesburg, Illinois for the first time in over forty years. Our family lived there from the time I was a baby until I completed fourth grade. We lived in three different houses, two of which I remember. The third was my favorite of all the houses in which I’ve lived. That house and that neighborhood remain vivid in my memory to this day. I’ve written about it before, in such pieces as “Seven, and It’s Summer.”

I had the chance to tell that story and to talk about a number of other memories with my best friend from those days last Saturday in a coffee shop in downtown Galesburg. We talked about the endless backyards in which we played, our trips over the brick streets on our bikes to buy baseball cards in the little corner stores, playing basketball in our driveway, looking up to the high school kids who reenacted the World Series with fast pitch wiffleball games in their driveway across the street, and memories from Bateman School, where we attended.

After I moved, Mark and I made a few trips to spend weekends with each other. The last time I saw him and hung out with the guys from the neighborhood was when I visited his house as a young teenager. We’ve only seen each other once since then, but when I knew I was going to be near town last weekend, I wrote him immediately and made plans to get together.

Monroe St BricksWhat is it about certain people and times in your life that are so special?

Mark and I can sit down and talk as though we were nine years old yesterday. The scenes are as clear in my mind as if they just happened, and he remembered them too.

It turns out our old house still has the same siding on it that it had fifty years ago. The willow tree that I used to swing on out back is gone, but the one next to it, with the split trunk that provided a young boy a place to curl up and think about life is still standing and much taller. The two and a half car garage has been painted white, and the basketball goal is one of those portable ones off to the side now rather than a backboard on the garage like we had. I told Gail that this was the garage I jumped off while holding an umbrella after seeing “Mary Poppins.” Saturday, I walked around back and saw where I used to nail my grandpa’s catcher’s mitt so I could practice when no one was around to play catch. Mark remembered that ancient mitt too.

The street still turns to brick just down from our house, and seeing it, I could almost hear and feel the rumble of my bike wheels on it. It used to be lined with majestic elms before the disease took them, but otherwise the neighborhood looks like time stood still. It was kind of sad to me that no kids were out playing in the yards or on the street last Saturday. That was about the only thing missing.

My world was fairly small then; just one street, school a few streets over, and some places around town where we took extended adventures on occasion. But it was a world, a rich world of life and friends and stories and imagination.

Galesburg UMCWe drove by the church where I was baptized and where my family attended back then. That I don’t remember too clearly, but I take solace in the fact that God knew me and loved me long before I was consciously aware of him. It wasn’t long ago that my mom sent me a couple of books which used to sit on my parents’ bookcase: one about Jesus and the other about the twelve disciples. My grandma had given them to me as baptismal presents. I do recall looking through those books with interest as a young child.

I have been blessed to have several incredible “worlds” in which I’ve lived over the years (see “Moving” — a post that talks about that). All of those worlds, the people who lived there, and the stories we made together have combined through a wondrous alchemy to shape me into who I am, for better or worse.

Last weekend I was a young boy again, riding my bike with my best friend over brick streets. Not a care in the world. There, together in a world that I may have left, but which will never leave me.


  1. Lovely…..brings back priceless memories of my own childhood!

    And I understand about God knowing us before we knew Him…..I now live about an hour away from where I was born, and baptised in a HUGE gothic church. The first time I saw the marble font where I had been welcomed to the Family, I teared up…..

    He loved us first!

  2. I like that brick road!

  3. Kyle In Japan says

    Thanks for this story Chaplain Mike. Though at only 24 years old, I am much younger, I had a similar experience when I went home to Houston, Texas last summer. After a year and a half in Japan and eight or so years since my last visit to my hometown, it was rather surreal going back to the neighborhood where I grew up and lived until I was eleven years old. I was never into sports (I was a kid more like Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame) but a lot of your post rings true. Despite how different and unfamiliar a lot of the city looked to me, the Bellaire area where I grew up hadn’t changed very much. The house where I grew up doesn’t look much different from when we moved in 1999.

    Personally I think it’s important to treasure and remember these sorts of memories. While I’ve enjoyed my time in Japan I really needed to get back to my roots, so to speak, and I don’t regret coming home and feeling the miserable Houston weather one bit.

    The sad thing is that our last connection with Houston is gone – my Grandmother just moved to an assisted living apartment near my parents’ home in Georgia. She lived just a few blocks away from us in our old neighborhood, and when I stayed at her house for a week last summer I didn’t know that would be my last time to visit her there. Though I’m still pretty determined to live in Japan, part of me wanted to go back to Houston, but without any remaining connection I’m not likely to return to my hometown anytime soon.

    Moving on is hard.

    • Kyle, it IS hard to move on, but I found myself more at ease after decades of moves and changes, gains and losses, adding people to my life—and losing them. It isn’t easier as much as it starts to fit into a pattern.

  4. Mike,

    thanks for these thoughts. I grew up not far from you — on the corner of North and Academy in Galesburg. We played a lot of sandlot ball over by Churchill, Bateman and the firehouse off Losey. We lived there from 1957- 1965 and then moved around in town some. I think Academy was divided: some went to Bateman, and others (our side of the street) went to Hitchcock.

    I live in Madison, Wisc., now, but I plan to go back to G’burg with a bike this spring and re-ride all the haunts and all the paper routes . . . sometimes you have to re-visit a few times to let things process and settle.

  5. It’s this longing for rooted community that Robert Wuthnow expresses as the spirituality of dwelling. We all long to return to our personal version of Tolkien’s Shire, “long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous.” It’s not there anymore for me except in memories, but at least we are re-creating it in our kids by a home full of warmth and goodness.