I had been feeling blue and confused about my life and thought I needed to go someplace safe and warm to regain my strength, my clarity, and my conviction. It was my day off and early that morning I decided that rather than ‘staying home’ I would ‘go home’. Back twenty-two years in time and eighteen miles down the road.
With some trepidation I started packing. First, the art supplies: journal and pen, sketchbook, pencils, and watercolors. The other tote bag was harder to pack. Towel, sunscreen, bathing suit. “What am I doing?” I muttered. The real question was, “Am I really doing this, going there?‘
The drive was like entering a time-machine. For the first twelve miles I was 38-year-old Bobbie, cruising south on the interstate, exiting onto Route 104. No problem. But then at the fork just west of Bristol Square, I turned right toward the lake instead of left toward my mother’s home. Six more miles to go.
I turned left at the foot of the lake and there is a shift. I am on the wrong side of the car. Here I am supposed to be a passenger, a child, staring out the window at the lake on the right, the boats and water-skiers, the summer cottages, the kids laughing as they thrash and play in the clear water of Newfound Lake.
But I am the driver now. I’m old enough to do this, or so my license says. I am not so sure. At the Frosty Kone I turn right again, following the lake shore, and now I am committed. I toss my hair back over my shoulder and straighten up tall so no one will suspect I have borrowed an adult’s body. “I am fine,” I declare. I am kidding myself.
At the state park, I signal right and turn the corner that snaps my neck back to 1968. I stop at the ticket booth and luckily there is a car in front of me. This is good, it gives me time to fumble in my wallet for the admission fee. The sign says $2.50 for adults. Seems awfully cheap for a racing heart experience.
I pull up to the ticket booth and smile at the gentleman inside. He could be the twin brother of the man who greeted me each morning as I bicycled in to work twenty-two years ago. My mind wanders; I imagine a long line of short, nondescript Santa-Claus-shaped men stored in the back room of the State Park & Rec Office in Concord. They are waiting for their season’s assignments to be parking attendants at Wellington, Bear Brook, Sunapee, Cannon, and the Flume. They are our Summer Santas.
I hand my money to the man in the khaki uniform and ask, “Is the park crowded today?”
The attendant smiles encouragingly and says, “No, it’s not too crowded at all.” My heart rises and sinks in a bell curve of understanding. As a tourist this is good news. As an employee it means Attendance is down. Revenue is down. It will be a slow, exhausting day.
I smile and say, “That’s too bad, it’s such a beautiful day. I worked here for two summers twenty years ago and this is my first time back.” Santa’s face changes, his eyes grow soft and direct as he says, “Then you have an especially good day.” Suddenly I am ‘staff’, not just another license plate. We are both pleased.
I drive into the parking area, and am briefly disoriented. I had never parked with the big cars, the general public; my bike had always gone under the trees, over there where the No Parking sign is. I drive on and pull up next to the last car, a station wagon, turn off the engine, and sit there for a moment.
Exhaling deeply, I coach myself. “Okay, Bobbie, remember it’s been a long time. Things will have changed, so get ready. This is why you came here today, not ‘closure’ exactly, just to see if this place still exists anywhere except in my childhood memories.”
I get out of the car and begin to don my “armor”—a tote bag on each shoulder, beach chair in my hand. I think twice, then lock my car, windows closed, in the full midday sun. “So what if my steering wheel and dashboard became a Salvador Dali sculpture before my return. Let them melt—I’m not taking any more chances than I need to today.”
…to be continued…