I spent my formative years in a little town.
A town so small, so insignificant that it was absorbed by a slightly larger town, so that they together could form a small city…if Melbourne, FL (current population @78,000) could be called a city even today, 40+ years after the merger.
I attended High School in that town; a High School named after a town that didn’t exist, and had not existed for a few years before I walked its hallowed halls.
In that High School, named for that non-existent town, I played in the Marching Band. I cheered one season after another for teams that won few games and brought little glory to that town that wasn’t there anymore.
Eau Gallie, Florida, my home town.
Even the Microsoft spellchecker software questions its existence.
That’s where I grew up; the sort of town that everyone wants to BE from, but not live in.
I recall talking about leaving, in fact, I remember most of my friends talking about leaving, and our tickets out of that town that didn’t exist were as diverse as dreams of young people have ever been.
Some held tickets to Universities, some to military service, others just thought that they would buy a ticket to ride, and go wherever life took them, so long as the town had a name.
My ticket was my music. A ticket out of that horse-with-no-name one-horse town, my music would set me free from the drudgery of its mundane mediocrity, so I threw myself at it with ferocity bordering on desperation.
I studies and practiced, and WORKED at the music…and I listened.
I was going to DO things with my life.
I immersed myself in the music of the times, the music of those of us who make up the last hurrah of the Baby Boomer generation, the generation that would give birth to Gen Xr’s, Millennials, punk and grunge, WE MADE serious music…
“Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming…”
Music with a message…
“You know we’ve got to find a way, to bring some lovin’ here today…”
It was in the midst of dreaming all those important and significant dreams, dreamt in that insignificant town that wasn’t, that an unusual song hit the airwaves. An absurd ditty that didn’t address the issues of the day, or the need for change, or even the cosmic reality of a world gone mad, this thing sounded like a children’s nursery rhyme set to basic chords.
This silly little tune spoke of “bows and flows of angel hair”, of “ice cream castles in the air.”
I was flabbergasted, couldn’t turn the dial fast enough when it came on. In fact, it angered me when the limited range of choices of radio stations available to me in that nowhere/somewhere town that I was trying to escape from, were diminished by this “song” receiving airplay.
I didn’t want to hear about “feather canyons”, I wanted to see canyons, travel West to California, or North to the Big Apple, a city so big that it had to be named twice…New York, New York was the logical place for me to be, so that I could then say “I am from a little town…nowhere really” when asked.
So I dreamt in that town that wasn’t, played songs for High School teams that bore the name of a city that was not one and cheered them to few victories, while spending my idle time doing whatever was available to do in this “zip code, nothing follows” place where I grew up
“We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do…”
So, I got out.
Life is a funny thing. The conscience of our generation would say in one of his last messages to us, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”, and he couldn’t have been more right.
So life happened, and here I am.
I’ll spare you the sordid details of the years and decades that have gone by, we all have our stories.
I’ll not talk about the times that my heart was broken, or my spirits uplifted.
I’ll not talk about the losses and the gains and the times when dreams I’d never dared to dream came to be.
We all have our stories.
I’ll tell you instead about a subtle paradigm shift of earth-shattering proportions, and how life happens when you’re busy making other plans.
I was planning just to “check my status updates”, maybe see if anyone had sent me a PM…facebook jargon unique to this day where socializing more often than not includes no true interpersonal contact, and I saw a seemingly innocuous post:
“If you grew up in Melbourne, Florida, then you remember…”
…and something inside me stirred.
It just so happened that just a few weeks prior, in a weird sort of coincidence, I had spent the night on that town with no name.
Returning to South Florida from a family vacation in Georgia, I opted to take my parents for a quick trip through our past; they are aging and I thought that they would enjoy seeing some old friends.
We drove Mom and Dad through that little town, pointing out every nook and cranny that contained a memory to my wife and kids, and there were so many nooks and crannies.
The houses, the schools, the parks, the exact spots where we would jump fences and cut through yards as we walked home from school; we named them all; I remembered them all.
I remembered the place where I learned to drive, the place where I broke my nose, the place where we went swimming with Pete…gone too soon.
I must have seemed crazy to my kids when as I excitedly pointed to an empty spot on the side of the road and told them that I used to work there.
There was no “there” there, the building having long been razed to the ground.
So many memories…
The park where we played ball during summer vacation; my oldest son was incredulous “you played ball?”
We showed the kids the distance between our house and the Junior High, and just as my dearest friends and I were amazed just months earlier, so were my kids: ”you didn’t have busses back then?”
The Hospital where their uncle was born and the field where I dreamt dreams of being somebody, I remembered those places as well.
Some memories came to my heart and my mind and remained unspoken, but they were there nevertheless.
So many significant places in that insignificant little town where I grew up.
We took pictures of places we hadn’t seen in decades, places that in spite the passage of time felt strangely familiar, and…warm.
That’s an odd thing to say, isn’t it?
But yet, there was warmth to these streets, to these parks, to these old houses badly in need of my father’s tender care, they felt like…
I was home.
How in the world had I missed this all these years?
How badly broken had my internal compass been that I had forgotten what it felt like to be home?
This nameless, insignificant little town held every significant memory of my youth; held my concept of home.
Tenderly, carefully, quietly, held them there for me all these years, and I swear to you that when I walked in those fields, I heard the impossible echoes of our youthful voices, ringing through the crisp, summer morning air, rising up to the clouds above.
“If dreams are like movies then memories are films about ghosts.”
It was days after returning home, after spending hours laughing and crying over the collective memories of the members of that facebook group that I ran across a video, and the final ZING of that paradigm shift set in.
I was trying to capture the essence of the old songs, the serious music, the music with a message, the important music, and an old song popped up in my screen.
“Bows and flows of angel hair…”
My hand went to the mouse, to click on the next selection, but something stayed its course.
“…and ice cream castles in the air…”
Had I missed something here as well?
“…and feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way.”
Maybe, I should listen a bit.
And I did.
And as the words flowed from the speakers, I got it.
I finally got it.
It’s all right there, it’s all about the ever-changing, ever-shifting clouds that makes your life, YOUR life.
It’s life’s illusions, it’s the dreams and the schemes, the circus crowds, the tears and the fears, and the times you can say “I love you” right out loud that make up your memories, these are the things that make you unequivocally you.
And sometimes, it’s only after you’ve looked at life from both sides, that you can truly understand this.
Then, and only then, is when you can begin understanding clouds.
Or understand what home is. What home means.
Everything is perspective, and what you see when you look at a cloud, depends on where you’re standing as you gaze at it.
The same applies to life.
So, if you could, if I may, if you would be so kind as to indulge me, I would like to start this story all over again.
I spent my formative years in the most amazing town…