Have you, as an adult, ever re-watched one of your favorite movies from childhood? Did it hold up? Or did you realize that as a five-year-old your cinematic palette hadn’t quite been refined yet? More times than not we romanticize the things that we loved from our childhood.
This past weekend a family wedding was held in Lake Placid, New York. Other than the seven-hour drive and the minus five temperatures that we woke up to on Saturday, it was a nice weekend. Many of my paternal family gathered together for the celebration – and the resort even had a make your own s’mores station, if you were willing to brave the cold to get there.
It also offered me a chance to do something that I feel many people aren’t afforded. During the trip, I was able to go back to my childhood stomping grounds after being away for more than 20 years.
My family moved when my father got a new job in 1994 while I was in seventh grade. The first 12 years of my life were straight out of something you would see in a movie. We lived in a small town in upstate New York where people didn’t worry about locking their doors and most of the neighbors knew each other. The kids would play outside and ride bikes until dinner time without our parents knowing where we were until after the fact. My elementary school only had about 25 students per grade and more than half of us went through all six years together.
It was a sheltered life in some way (I didn’t know what being Jewish was until sixth grade), but that all changed when we moved to Philadelphia. There was a culture shock going from a small-town existence to living in the suburbs of one of the biggest cities in the country. During the first year or two, we would occasionally go back up to see friends. But then things happen, everyone gets busy, and we just never returned.
So, with some free time before the wedding started, my siblings and I piled into the car and headed to Glens Falls, which is a little town located just south of Lake George, New York, a popular summer destination in the Adirondack mountains. My dad likes to tell us that Glens Falls’ claim to fame is that the mayor’s son was WWE wrestler Hacksaw Jim Duggan while we lived there. Fun Fact, though, is that Rachael Ray was actually born there as well before her family moved to Lake George.
Our first stop on the tour was to the house that I grew up in. The house is over 2,100 square feet with a giant backyard and a fence around the nearly half-acre plot to keep us children from escaping. The house felt huge back then, even with six people living in it. But now looking at it, and it doesn’t seem so big after all. The fencing around the front is gone and it’s been painted white from the dark blue color that we left it with.
There was something about standing in front of that house that felt alien to me. In addition to the changes to my house, the house next to it and two buildings (a house and an apartment building) that were caddy corner were both torn down and turned into a parking lot. I guess Counting Crows (and Joni Mitchell) were right about paving paradise to put up a parking lot.
As I drove around the neighborhood, many of the houses looked like they hadn’t been properly cared for since close to when we left. Many looked run down and almost all of them needed a new paint job (if not more work done). I was able to recall who lived in which house as we went down the street, but nothing was as I remembered it.
The corner store that my mother had worked in when we were little and that we would buy penny candy from was gone. It had been converted into a house.
Next, we went to the elementary school. When I started there in kindergarten, it was a single small schoolhouse with 9 rooms in it (including the gym/library, principal’s office, and nurse’s office). There was also a little house next to it that had been converted into offices and a lunchroom. While I was there, a second building was built with 4 classrooms in it.
In the years since, the school has grown and the two buildings are now connected. Whereas everything else seemed smaller, this had actually grown. My little school had grown larger. We took a peek into a window. While changes had been made to the exterior, thankfully, the hallway looked exactly the way it had been while I attended.
We went a few more times. Looked at the location of the restaurant that my father had owned for a few years. Visited the playground we spent long summer days at. We saw many of the stores from our childhood had closed with only vacant buildings remaining. There was a weird dichotomy happening. Things had obviously changed over the last 25 years, but it was still familiar enough that we could recognize the places we loved growing up.
I’m glad that I got the chance to go back up and see what had become of my childhood hometown. Now that I have been, however, I don’t need to go back again. I feel that I have gotten closure on that chapter of my life. Not because there was anything wrong with it; but simply because it doesn’t feel like home anymore. I’ve clung to this idea for 25 years because my formative years were spent there. But in the last 25 years, I have grown and changed as much as Glens Falls has changed. I’m not the same person I was back then. I guess that’s why they say you can never truly go home again – because it’ll never be the way you remember it in your memories.
Padraic Maroney hails from upstate New York, suffering from middle child syndrome. His writing career began after moving to the Philadelphia suburbs while in high school. He wrote for The Bucks County Courier Times’ Reality section, written by local teenagers, and has the distinction of writing a weekly gossip column for a college newspaper at a school he didn’t even attend! His love of pop culture led him to intern at Teen People, where he met Janis Gaudelli, and realized he could turn being a millennial into a career. Since then he’s alternated between writing and marketing, but always focused on Millennials and everything they bring to the table. Padraic is a lover of shenanigans, 80s music, and the movie “Scream.”
You can follow his additional adventures on Instagram: @padraicjacob