May 8, 2012, Washington, DC: There are roots we work hard to grow when we settle into a new hometown and then there are others wedged firmly into the soil that we can’t seem to break. We returned to Connecticut this weekend for my high school reunion, refamiliarizing ourselves with the roots that took hold early on.
On Saturday, we did what we always used to: We walked through the hallways at school and took a group stroll down “the Avenue.” Friday afternoons on the Avenue were once a teenage rite of passage — when school let out early, we’d walk down to DaVinci’s for a slice of pizza, past D.W. Rogers on the corner, and into Mead’s candy store for sour belts and Runts. The old stores are long gone, replaced by others like Asks Fifth Avenue and Restoration Hardware. The old movie theater has been taken over by Apple.
But other spots remain the same, or close to it. Health Mart still stands at the top of the “Avenue”, a country store looking more and more out of place, and Meli Melo has expanded into the space previously occupied by the old Star Laundry next door. The once modest men’s store, Richards, is now ten times its former self on a massive lot across the street.
Maher Ave. looks a lot like we left it, too. As a teenager, I was always envious of the kids who lived on Maher Ave., right there in the heart of the action, while I lived up a dark, windy road an entire town away. On Maher Ave., the houses were close together, and trick-or-treating on Halloween was a gold mine, and we always saw people we knew walking down the street. Living there meant freedom to roam to the diner for late night mozzarella sticks and never needing to wait for a ride home from the Avenue. Those who lived there always had friends over because parents never said it was too far to go to drop their children off. Maher Ave., at least in part, may explain my obsession with walkability.
There was something else I liked about Maher Ave., too. Those of us who spent time there knew that it challenged the ritzy label that others were always so eager to place on people who the answered the seemingly simple question “Where are you from?” with the word Greenwich. Never before or since have I been part of a community so quickly stereotyped by the name of a town.
Maher Ave. was one of those places that always felt grounded. It still does. So do other parts of Greenwich, despite its new storefronts and fancy reputation. But that’s one of the real benefits to establishing roots anyplace, isn’t it? We understand that while superficial changes happen all the time, our hometowns have a lot more depth than that.
Part of having firm roots someplace is knowing just how much more lies beneath the surface.
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