Pulled Back by the Roots
A Dutchess County native discovers time travel.
Illustration by Tim Foley
Scientists say that time travel isn’t possible. But it is. You only have to return to your hometown as an adult.
For most of my teenage years, I couldn’t wait to leave Poughkeepsie. I described my hometown in the most boring terms to strangers. Nothing about the Hudson River, or the mountains, or even the CIA (“Not that one, the food one.”). Simply: the last stop on Metro North; the place you have to spell, letter-by-letter, every time you give your address over the phone.
To escape, I went to college six hours away, and there I fell in love with my now-husband, a Beacon native. Although we fantasized about moving to Texas, Michigan, or even London, we ended up right back where we came from, unable to pass up double job offers in Dutchess County school districts. Pulled back by the roots, I began the process of re-framing my opinion of my hometown. That was when I discovered the benefits of time travel.
On a spring morning, my son E and I took a walk on the Vassar College campus, pushing his baby sister in a stroller. The flowerbeds were overflowing with color, sunlight dappling the trees, and the grass sparking bright green.
“Look,” I said to E. “See that bench, the horseshoe-shaped one? That’s where my dad — your Papa — used to take me for picnics.” We’d get sandwiches and eat on the bench, and afterward I’d walk round and round the horseshoe, tracing my fingers over the “X” in the middle where the railings met. I’d look for bugs and creepy-crawlies, and stretch to touch the tree branches sheltering us from above. I can see us sitting there, shadows of my father with more hair, and me at 8 years old. I am in two times at once.
“And that’s the place by the pond where I did my science class study.” In seventh grade, I’d been assigned to observe nature for a week. I sat in the dirt by the trickle of a stream beyond the pond’s oval path, and noted birds, fish, and rock formations. The smell of dried mud and moss ties that memory to this moment.
We walked by a garden that hadn’t existed during my childhood. It hadn’t had a reason to exist: the 9/11 memorial rock garden.
“And that’s where I used to take you as a baby,” I tell E. “We’d go to music class on Main Street, and then we’d walk here in this very stroller, and we’d have lunch together.” I can feel the glassy charcoal bench cooling my thighs, a long-handled orange spoon with a dollop of vegetable puree in one hand, and a half-bitten sandwich in the other.
In that more-present moment, I smile down at the baby, who beams back. That’s when I travel into the future: to the day when I can take her on a walk around Vassar College, or down Main Street, or other playgrounds of my childhood, and tell her the things I told my son. Shadows of my past and future selves dance together as my children and I complete our circle around Vassar and head back home.
Leanne Sowul is a novelist, essayist and Arlington music teacher. She is a proud Poughkeepsie native, and takes walks down memory lane with her two children whenever she can. www.leannesowul.com
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