Hartland, Where I Grew Up Once is a new set of stories I'm starting. It's pretty much what it sounds like.
Hartland, Wisconsin sits about 47 miles almost due east of where I sit as I write this. It is a small town, smaller in my memory than in reality and smaller when I grew up there once than it is now.
Hartland, Wisconsin, of course, also sits in my memory, which is located (so far as I can tell) somewhere just to the right of my left ear.
It is, was, probably still will be, a town of predominantly white people, people more affluent now than they were when I grew up there once, people living in the houses I can remember almost perfectly in my mind.
Here's a thought: My phone number, growing up, was (414) 367-6392. My address was 440 Hartwood Lane. I had 42 people on my paper route (daily) and 72 (Sunday).
I remember those things and yesterday when I voted I had to think for a second to recall my current address.
The Hartland I grew up in is both gone and still there. I drove through it, not long ago, and all the sites are still mostly there: St. Charles Church, where I went to school until third grade and went to church until I moved, right across the street from Mrs. Loppnow's house where I took piano lessons. Hartland Elementary North, where I went from 6th through 8th grades and once chased Rob Bellin down a hill trying to catch him and beat him up because he'd made me so mad that I'd said a swear word and he had threatened to tell my Mom and Dad and I figured the only way to get him to not do that would be to beat him up, a plan I was unable to follow through on because I was fat and slow and Rob was the opposite of both of those.
He never did tell, though.
There is the gas station where I worked third shift in between bouts of college, changed a lot but still in the location. There is the restaurant that in my day was Wolf's Cobblestone Inn and is something else now but it looks the same. There is the building where Jackson's Department Store with its candy counter was located. Jackson's is gone and not gone because its building is still there and it's still in my head.
Nixon Park, the building that was the Piggly-Wiggly (now moved, now larger), and a road through what used to be Hasslinger's land with the pond where Bill caught a Northern, a fish that I know only as a Northern, a fish big enough that Mom and Dad made Bill stand on our front lawn and hold it up for a picture. We didn't eat the fish, because Hasslinger's land was long-rumored to be dirty, filled with toxic waste and not fit for eating fish from. Also, we weren't really the kind of people who clean and eat a fish they've caught.
The hill where I camped when I ran away from home, three days of not going to high school and eating hot dogs because they are cheap and reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... it's all still there, some of it paved over and some of it not.
And like the fish, and the picture of the fish, all gone-but-not-gone.
I drove through Hartland a few months back, on my way from one place to another. I hadn't gone there to go there. I'd gone to a place and now I was coming back, but I had extra time and on this particular day decided to drive through, to see the old town which wasn't so far out of my way after all, and so I drove through, past the house my parents raised me in, past the schools I attended, up to the top of Canterbury Circle where if you look in the right direction you can see the church at Holy Hill, one of two places in Hartland where that is possible. The other hill that lets you see so far is the hill I sledded down and broke my wrist once, learning the hard way that runner sleds can not make 90-degree turns.
That seemed a big deal, when I was a kid: go to the top of the hill, and see Holy Hill, where we would sometimes drive in the fall. In the car, it seemed a long way away, this monastery and cathedral-style church where they had a rack of crutches from people who had come to Holy Hill and been cured of their lameness, thrown away their crutches. We never went to church there; we only went for the sights, going in the fall when the leaves were changing colors and we could go up the stairs in the big tower past the large round windows that were bigger than me and which had no glass in them, making me dizzy with the fear of falling out.
I would look at the crutches and take some holy water and put it on my right eye, the lazy one, the one with amblyopia, and pray it would cure my eye. You may laugh, but I had warts when I was a little kid, and on a trip to St. Louis, when we went to church there, I put holy water on them and prayed I'd never have warts again and I never had warts again.
I'm 43 now, and I still have a lazy eye. But I don't wear glasses anymore, the result of an eye doctor once telling me that glasses weren't really doing me any good and I didn't have to wear them if I didn't want to. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
On my recent trip back -- nearly six months ago, now -- I drove to the top of Canterbury Hill and stopped my car and got out. I could see Holy Hill. I took my camera out to take a picture, to remember that moment, but then, in the camera, it didn't look right. It didn't look big enough. My memory was better and so I deleted the picture and got back in the car, listening to Noah And The Whale and driving my old paper route, remembering how my Dad had negotiated with Mr. Ferris so that we would have Pennbrook Way, which was a good one, but not have the two circles that led off of Pennbrook, two long cul de sacs that had few houses in them but one was a steep hill and one was long and neither, my dad felt, was worth the effort to have to deliver to them, so they were split off my route and given to someone else, and that poor person had to walk all the way up Pennbrook Way to deliver papers to these two cul de sacs, about 10 houses total, a mile out of his way.
Eventually, that poor person was my then-best friend, Jim, who would later kill himself over his parent's divorce, doing so in the 9th grade. I used to run into him on the paper route, trudging back down Pennbrook Way past all the houses I delivered to.
I drove past my old house, too, still remarkably similar to the way it looked when I lived there, nestled between what used to be the Wizners house on the left and the Barquists' house on the right. The Barquists moved after they got a divorce, and my other then-best-friend Paul went to live in Michigan, and their house got bought by the Riedis, who had a young son named Lucas. Lucas was two years younger than my little sister and used to come to our house to watch He Man because his parents wouldn't let him watch it in their house, but the green house was always the Barquists, of course, even after they moved, just as the yellow house between the Barquists and the Wizners was always the Pagels' house, no matter that the people who live there now probably don't know who all those people are.
Some things are always there even when they're not. Forever, I will always have lived in the yellow house at 440 Hartwood Lane, right next to the Field and the Swamp, both of which are gone now, and just a mile outside of the city of Hartland, which is still there and will have always been there. I drive through it sometimes, to see what it's like now, but what it's like now doesn't matter so much because what matters, I think, is what it was like then and apparently what it will be like forever, for so long as I'm alive and can remember these things.
But, worried about my memory -- so many things to remember, I can't even recall my current ZIP code -- I decided I'd start writing those, down, too. Cameras can't catch a picture of the view of Holy Hill from the top of Hartland, because cameras can only take a picture of what things look like now, not what things looked like then and then and then and a little while after that. Cameras can't snap a shot that somehow includes how hard it was to ride a bike up that hill, the climb so tough that we decided not to include it in the subdivision-wide bike races we set up the summer Breaking Away was shown on regular TV. Cameras can't fit into the frame the twisting route one takes to get from Castle Park through Imperial Drive to go up that hill, and cameras can't look just a little to the left, out of the frame, to see the Canyon and the Pine Tree and Kill Hill and the rest, things that are barely visible from the hill on top of Hartland but which are obvious to anyone who lived there.
And so I'm going to write it down, and hope that the words can keep what my memory might not, and share what pictures can't.
Because I love Hartland, where I grew up once, and others might, too.