Monday, December 14, 2015

You Can't Go Home Again: A Tour Of Lunenburg County.

While traveling to Richmond over the weekend, I took a small detour through the area where I grew up. Lunenburg County has never been the wealthiest of locales. In fact, the county still doesn't even have a McDonald's or a Walmart; that's just how rural the place is. I emerged in Victoria, Virginia; the town where I went to middle and high school. Not too much had changed considering I hadn't been there in nearly fifteen years. Some of the businesses throughout the town had changed names, but many more seemed to have closed altogether. I took notice of so many empty storefronts and factories. Such a shame, really.

I made a stop at my old high school first. Central High was already in fairly run down condition when I graduated from there in 2000. It doesn't seem much has improved. Many of the outlying buildings were in disrepair.

The amphitheater surrounding the old art complex was dreary, with some benches appearing to be scattered or broken. I can recall sitting on that stage graduating, to which I fell asleep in the hot sun waiting for the whole event to be over. The only highlight seemed to be the football field, which looked to have a new fence and seating. This came as no surprise to me, though. Even when I was still a student there, all anyone ever cared about was the damned football team.

I then ventured down to Lunenburg Middle School, which I attended between 1993 and 1996. Unfortunately, I simply wasn't prepared for the dilapidated condition of the campus.

The two buildings which comprise the middle school are in the active process of being reclaimed by nature. Most of the lot, including the sports fields, was overgrown with tall grass and weeds. The old gymnasium and wood shop looked to be suffering roof collapses.

Windows everywhere were broken or missing. Many of the doors were left open to vagrants and wild animals. Had I of wanted to, I could have easily gone inside and inspected the broken down structure. Approaching the cafeteria, I found part of its large window knocked out.

Inside, I discovered trash, animal waste and grime. The old murals which used to be on the walls were painted over at some point after I left. I can still recall my very last day at the school in 1996, waiting for my bus to arrive outside the main office entrance. Such a pity the school has been all but forgotten. I learned later on this weekend that a new middle school had been built recently, but I'm not sure when or where. To see these old buildings rotting away, though... that was a punch to the gut.

Heading on to Kenbridge, I stopped by the Tastee Freez. Much to my thankfulness, I was glad it was still open for business. This was my first job as a teenager.

At the time, I rather disliked working there. But, looking back, it was probably one of the best parts of my teenage years. On Friday nights, we practically served every mouth in the county. It was even worse after a Central football game. Whew... talk about hard work! I am thankful for the work ethic that job taught me, though. Not much had evolved inside the building. The same tables, same booths, same menu board, same ice cream machine -- it was all there! The current employees were really nice and friendly. It was comforting to see that not much had been altered since the last time I was inside; I believe it was 2002.

I drove by my old house on Broad Street feeling perplexed, unable to tell if it was being remodeled or just trashed by the current residents. Garbage and building waste littered the yard. The multiple gas stations along Broad were still open, but stifled by folks in loud trucks, cars with blaring music and foolhardy loiterers. All in all, it was quite depressing.

Coming back as a man, I was taken aback by how much smaller everything seemed to be. Had I grown larger? Or, the more likely scenario... things have the appearance of being so much bigger when you're in your youth. 

Thomas Wolfe writes in his literary classic You Can't Go Home Again:
"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."
The harrowing words of Wolfe pierce my heart like a stinging blade of remembrance. I've avoided Lunenburg County for so long. Never proud of where I came from as a young man, it wasn't a place I wanted to be a part of my adulthood. Seeing Lunenburg's current state, I can say confidently that I made the right choice in leaving all those years ago. There's no hope for the area; no chance of broadened horizons. No likelihood of being successful or noteworthy. No chance of seeing the world or meeting new people. It was important for me to experience where I grew up as a man, though. To understand just how far I've come as an adult, I needed to see firsthand where I started from. In all things, perspective is the key to correctly gauging your trajectory.

With the stale breath of creeping death upon my neck, I left Lunenburg with a greater appreciation of all that I've worked so hard for. None of my success would have been possible had I of stayed there.

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