We visited downtown Madison last week after a while away. Our traditional record store, toy store, and lunch spots are long gone. At the campus end of State Street, high-rise apartments have replaced the restaurants Husnus and Kabul. It isn’t like it used to be.
In happy childhood memories, I’m playing in the giant wasteland behind the family's modest backyard. Now a deep, manicured lawn meets that of its back-to-back neighbor the next street over, separated only by a white picket fence. I miss the overgrown playland. It’s not the way it was.
Does one picture a favorite place as enduring before one met it and for months or years thereafter? Were its imperfections part of its charm? Does novelty feel like betrayal? Maybe students like to live in high-rises; maybe kids enjoy playing in big, tidy yards. These may be the memories they’ll cherish. We love places not just for their traits but for the memories we attach to them: exuberant youth or young adulthood, romance, healing, you name it. Change is the only constant, but the constancy of memory tugs at our hearts.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.