Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Ghosts of Places Past

Driving across Iowa today I came across the exit for the Amana Colonies. Growing up, vacation for us usually involved the long drive from Indianapolis to the panhandle of Nebraska and when we didn't do the drive in one day, the hotel stop was this exit. 

It had probably been 30 years since I stayed at what was a Holiday Inn. When I got on the off-ramp there were faded signs for a waterpark that was what the hotel was now, or rather had been.

Time does strange things to memories. I vividly remember the inside of this hotel, and the swimming pool, and the fact that this was the only place I ever saw the game Arkanoid. There was also the visit of 1991 when I took a nap somewhere in Illinois and woke up at the hotel. When I awoke, I had a sore throat and quickly developed a fever. It was within an hour or so we were en route back to Iowa City to visit a hospital where it was found I had an acute case of strep throat. After that night it took me a long time to not equate naps to becoming sick.

This flood of memories continued on as I turned into the parking lot and was met with a chain link fence. The giant wooden playground structure was still there, just as I had remembered, but the building had seen better days. I looked to my left across the street and the German style restaurant was now dilapidated. This made me sad because I think that was my parents go to place, so I felt sad for them even though they weren't with me.

I stayed stationary staring at the former hotel for several minutes. I got a strange look from someone that was filling their car at the Amoco station, but I didn't care because I'm sure they have a place somewhere in this world like I was experiencing at this moment. Maybe this is the essence of life. We all have places we have fragments of memories of, but those fragments bring a smile to our faces and in our memories that place is still like it was, frozen in time, awaiting our return. So long as we don't go back and see what time has done to it, it is still there, not rotting, not rusting, and fully shining on the side of the road awaiting the next family headed somewhere far away.

Seeing what time has done, however, exposes the myth of the stillness of time in our memories. Perhaps the hotel will be razed and perhaps a new hotel will be built. Or maybe a truck stop. Whatever it may be it won't be what it once was. 

I shed a couple tears as I turned around and headed away. Thirty years ago, that turn out of the parking lot would've been either headed back home or headed to my grandma's house. Places can remind us of the times we had, but as I headed back on I-80 I realized it wasn't the place itself that gave me the warm feelings of my memories, it was the time with my family has a eight-year-old. The hotel may be razed, it may become overgrown with weeds, it could become a truck stop, but while the world has lost the physical place, I won't lose my memories of the pool, the opening music to Arkanoid, and the feeling of pure freedom traveling with my family west which felt like a journey to another planet. Oh, to be young again and to have that wonder, and to have another place much like the one that was now locked away behind a fence.

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