Most people who know me are well aware I have a deep fondness for my hometown of Martinsburg, West Virginia. I lived there for such a relatively short period of time that it has made me question over the years if I can even really call Martinsburg my hometown. I moved there, with my parents of course, in April of 1980, and then left in January of 1987. A stay of just four months shy of seven years. Ever since that time I’ve lived in Massachusetts and New England for over 25 years, including a large chuck of my later childhood. Despite that, I still consider Martinsburg my hometown because I think that period of time had a much more positive impact on me, a place I think back on with nothing but good memories. Of course there were bad times as well, especially for my parents, but for me it was a very happy place, a comforting place, one that tore me up when we left on a morning I still remember quite vividly til this very day. The movers had departed on their journey, and it was just my parents and I packing up the car, then slowly pulling away as I cried and cried in the back seat, scared and worried, saying goodbye to all my good friends, and having no idea what it was going to be like in this new town, this new state. It wasn’t a good transition for me, I was treated quite badly and became very lonely upon my arrival in Massachusetts, and that only strengthened my bond with my former home. Of course as the years pass nostalgia kicks in, memories warp and fade a bit, and as things change you begin to question if that place you grew up for six long years of childhood even existed. In 2001, I and a close friend of mine went back to visit for the first time since leaving in 1987, and it’s bizarre thinking that at that time it had only been 14 years since I left, because on my second trip back this past October it was another 11 years. That span between visits went by much faster, probably because I had already been back and the excitement and drama of it all was lessened a bit. It’s sort of hard to explain what it is like to go back there. When you’re growing up your imagination goes a bit insane, and places and events end up not being as grand and fantastic as you think you remembered them. And with time passing, and memories fading, you tend to question what did happen and what didn’t happen, how things were, what existed and what didn’t, and with a place you adore so much you tend to exaggerate. But on both visits this was not the case. It helps that Martinsburg, despite cosmetic changes here and there, has basically frozen in time. I can’t begin to describe how surreal it was to go back to a place and see that everything you remembered – and possibly had just started imagining – was completely real, having remained almost exactly as you left it, and now coming back to life before my eyes. It’s like walking onto a movie set. Everything that you saw in that theater of the mind is there – living and breathing. It’s not a fabrication in any way – this was my home – that house exists – that school exists – that perfectly American downtown exists.
With my parents having passed away over the course of the past few years, this visit took on a much more emotional resonance for me. Everywhere I turned my head a memory was coming back to life. I sat on the bench outside my elementary school, looking across the grass to our old house, picturing my Mom in the door waving as I walked home. I saw my Dad helping me learn how to ride a bike for the first time on that grass. I saw my grandparents’ car sitting in the driveway after the journey down from Wilkes-Barre, PA – a straight shot down I-81. I saw my Dad with his big smile and booming laugh, greeting parishioners as they left his Sunday church service. I saw my old neighbors across the street playfully making faces at me as we used to do with each other. I saw myself catching fireflies in mason jars on the front porch on a humid West Virginia evening – and for some reason being surprised when I found them dead the next morning. Everyone has great memories of their childhood, but it’s hard to describe to people who spent their childhoods all in one place, and a place where they still go back to all the time. It’s been there for them, reliably, for years and years. For me, to see that all the joy and happiness I remembered, all the memories of time spent with my parents and my friends, that it was all very, very real, was quite comforting and reassuring. I don’t know the Martinsburg of today in terms of the people. I’m not sure I really want to know. Seeing and remembering a place through the eyes and memories of only a child is a very special I think, and I plan on keeping that way. It’s possible a few old friends from back in those days will read all this and think I am crazy, or maybe they will understand. All I know it was a time of great happiness for me, surrounded by good friends and my loving parents, and it was just a perfect place to grow up in. What I know more than anything, especially from trying to write this, is Martinsburg is a very special to me and extremely hard to put into words as to why. But I’ve tried.
So, I went back at the end of October 2012, and if you click on the big picture below, you will be taken to my photo site if you’re interested in checking them out. The pictures really aren’t very good, and will probably bore 99% of you, which is completely understandable. I can see how from the average person’s point of view, there is really nothing special looking about Martinsburg. But I added commentary on a lot of the pictures, describing what things are, and jotting down memories I have for even the most mundane things, like the back entrance to the gym of my elementary school. And all that may bore you too, but I figured at least a small select handful of people may find some of it interesting – those who are “lucky” enough to know me the best! HA! The pictures kind of go in order, like a tour. It won’t make sense to most of you, but know at least for the most part you are going from point A to point B with some sort of rhyme or reason, not just randomly sorted photos. There are also some pictures at the end of Harper’s Ferry, WV, a beautiful national park from the Civil War era where a lot of you have probably already been. It is very close to Martinsburg so I used to go with my parents all the time, and it looked especially pretty with all the vibrant Fall foliage.
“Wild, wonderful West Virginia”, indeed.