Thursday, July 28, 2011

How I Spent My Summer (So Far...)

Author's Note: I got home from taking my last final about half an hour ago, and summer school is officially over. All I want to do is sit on my couch, maybe have a beer (even though it's only 10:30 am), and watch TV and movies while I forget everything I learned this summer. Needless to say, I'm feeling rather uninspired at the moment. I've decided to take this opportunity to share with you one of the essays I wrote this summer. This is much more serious writing than you're used to me doing, but I hope you enjoy it.

As we go through life, it seems that the only constant is change. Living in Missoula for nearly twenty years, I have seen open space become urban sprawl. I have seen buildings get demolished and new ones constructed. I have seen businesses close and new ones move in to replace them. My own life has changed in more ways than I could ever have imagined. Everything around us is constantly evolving. However, if you look hard enough, you can almost always find a spot that seems untouched by time. For me, that place is the Western Montana Fairgrounds.

It's always the smell that brings my mind back to my childhood experiences at the fairgrounds. It's a very unusual smell, a combination of cigarette smoke and fried food, a fragrant bouquet of unhealthy decisions. The smell triggers my other senses. I can see the bright lights of the carnival rides and hear the sounds of a demolition derby in the distance. I can even feel hot asphalt under my feet, sticky from someone's dropped soda or beer.

I spent most of my early childhood in Butte, less than two hours drive from Missoula. I had a lot of extended family in Missoula, and my family would make the drive every August to attend the annual fair and visit family. We relocated to Missoula when I was eleven years old, and the tradition of yearly carnival rides and animal exhibits continued. I went to the fair every year that I can remember up until I graduated from high school. There were also countless other events to go see at the fairgrounds, such as circuses, monster truck shows, and horse races. Needless to say, the fairgrounds hold a multitude of childhood memories for me.

I went to the fairgrounds recently after not having been there in several years. This is a place that truly seems frozen in time. The buildings appear to be in the same state of disrepair they've always been in, but I'm sure it's just my mind playing tricks on me. The paint on the buildings is trying to escape, slowly peeling away; the green colored trim is incredibly dated. The grandstands have a very deceiving appearance about them. They look as if they're about to topple like poorly stacked blocks, but walking on them reveals them to be quite sturdy and dependable. Strangely, that's exactly how I remember them.

Other than this one little time capsule in the middle of town, everything else about Missoula has changed. Even the streets that run right next to the fairgrounds have been reconfigured. This town has grown so much, and it seems to take up more and more of this valley's footprint every day.

Everyone who lives here tells the story differently, the “I remember when Missoula was this small” story. Most in my generation tell the story of North Reserve Street. Two decades ago, it was mostly empty space. Now, it is a true monument to consumerism, with strip malls and chain stores as far as the eye can see. Just as my hometown is evolving, my life is changing as well.

The place I'm in right now is truly a place of transition. My wife and I recently bought our first house together. Other than having a child, this is the biggest change either of us has ever experienced. I absolutely despised most everything about the last place we lived, but it was still home. This house is new and unfamiliar. It's not home. I have a piece of paper with my name on it that says the house belongs to me, but it's not home.

It still feels like my family and I are staying in the house of a stranger, but for some reason this stranger's house happens to have all of our stuff in it. It smells like someone else, it sounds like someone else, and it feels like someone else. Yet I've come to realize that the smells, sounds, and feelings aren't going to change. My perception of them is what is going to change. Today's changes are tomorrow's constants.

While we were in the process of moving in to our new house, I found myself imagining how this place would become a part of who my son is. He turned three years old the week we moved in, and he will, in all likelihood, live here until he graduates from high school. He will probably identify this house as his first real home. It doesn't quite feel like home to me yet. To him, home is wherever Mommy and Daddy are, and I think he may be on the right track.

After spending all this time thinking about my sense of place, I came to the realization that my actual physical location has very little to do with my place. The people I surround myself with are a much better indicator of my place than land, buildings, or trees ever could be. My physical house may not feel like home yet, but my family is with me, and that's what makes it my place. Wherever my wife and son are, that's where my true home, my place, happens to be at that moment.

Thinking back to my recent revisiting of the fairgrounds, I wonder again if my mind was playing tricks on me. Was I looking at reality, or was my mind resurrecting my memories and showing them to me? Could it be possible that the past and present were somehow combined into one? I doubt it, but it really made me think not only about where I fit, but how I fit there. It also made me realize that things are always moving, always changing. It is the things that stay the same, whether in reality or just in our memories, that are the important things to hold on to.

1 comment:

  1. This was wonderful to read Aaron. You wrote some things I think about. Thank you!
    And congrats of the new house. :) I can't wait for the day I'll get to buy one.