living in austin again is really weird. i know it’s always weird to go back to the town you grew up in, but seeing’s how it’s austin, i think it’s doubly weird.
austin was on a decline even when we lived there. it seems to be stuck in the 50s, and every new, shiny thing that comes along really sticks out like a sore thumb. because of that, i realize that people who’ve never lived there are going to bash it. i’ll defend it…but only half-heartedly. yes, austin is that bad.
the only redeeming, charming quality about the town, a mcdonald’s circa 1950 itself, was torn down and replaced by a newly remodeled version. but that seems to be its only new thing in the town proper…even the target, which was built after we moved away, is in dire need of remodeling.
then when i drive through the town, i can point out and remember places that i frequented when i was young…and they aren’t there. people too. aunt mary’s gone, squire’s gone. the empty shells of their houses remain. the place where my aunt kathleen bought me a perm is defunct, as is the place where i got my ears pierced.
i drive past the place where the red owl used to be, and the tiny strip mall that also housed the liquor store my mom took me to, where i dipped my hand in the cold water of the liquid cooler next to the check-out counter, and they’re no longer there – nothing but grass.
harry’s cafe, where my aunt colettie and uncle squire would take us for breakfast on sundays? empty. the bakery where we would stop for doughnuts and long johns on our way to todd park on saturdays, an almost religious ritual? nothing but a derelict building alongside an equally run-down road. even jerry’s other place, which had survived long past our move, is now closed.
kentucky fried chicken? gone. no longer is the building where both my parents stopped one evening, separately, to pick up supper – an odd and expensive treat for a poor family of 6. the weird gas station home across the street, of course, is still there, except i think it’s a car dealership now.
drive out to the mall, and there’s a new super walmart, fancy shops lining the opposite side of the street – a caribou, a gas station, maurices, a couple fast food places. but venture to the mall itself, and it’s so empty you could hear a dime drop from the opposite side. it’s a weird day when shopko (the bastion of slow, uncrowded shoppers everywhere) is the busiest place in the complex.
the worst, of course, is driving past the old homestead and not recognizing it at all. i wandered around my cousins’ place (they bought the land after we moved, burned the house down, and built a huge place), and it took me all i could do to recognize the large oak tree that was the main focus of all our playing while growing up. trees have grown up, grass has filled in, others have been cut down, rearranged, replaced.
but the tree remains. running my fingers along its bumply trunk, wondering how old it actually was, i realized that i was no long an austinite, but i will hold on to what i can. i will defend. and i will recognize that tree.