Faith Works 12-19-15
Walking Through Downtown
He got his coffee filled one more time at the counter, then walked out into the night.
The Warden Hotel used to be there; his grandmother took the kids to Sunday dinner there after church, the one they went to that was at Five Points, where there's just a parking lot now.
Slowly, step by step, he worked his way around the big circular thing they'd built off the courthouse square. A roundabout, they called it. Hmmpphh. He could still recall when the occasional horse and wagon clopped along South Park Place. Back when the Midland showed movies every weekend, and the Soldiers and Sailors Auditorium had the better singers and magicians.
They'd kept from tearing the Midland down like all the rest of the theatres around the square, but he remembered them all, each a little different in the lobby, the popcorn, the best seats (especially with a date).
It was a different place, no doubt. Fewer bars, no shady ladies waving from porches blocks away from downtown, less sudden violence in the shadows. Anyone who missed the good old days probably hadn't seen many of them first hand.
But he did miss Floyd and his boots, Jerry with the fabrics, the old cobbler up Fourth St. fixing shoes – what was his name? – the bowling alley literally down an alley, the smell of Styron Beggs when it was rosewater day. So much gone, so many gone on before. Liberty Pete, Sam the Cop, Bessie at the bakery.
That market gal, painted now on a building wall bigger than life: she looked familiar. Probably just a trick of the memory, but she rang a bell. Maybe he'd known her daughter? They were building a new market, frames and walkways going in where there had been wagons and stalls long ago. Market Street, Canal Street: the canal had stopped running even when he'd been a small child, but there were those stretches filled with black water in younger days, iced over in winter, full of frogs in the spring. No more, now all just angled streets and odd dips between buildings.
His apartment was by one of those off-kilter streets west of downtown. There were hints of canals and railroads and even, a fellow had said at the library (that bright big new one), even remnants of Indian trails and buffalo traces marked by the lines and passages of modern day roads.
His walk home followed that old canal, only a street name now; he didn't like walking along Main St. for reasons that didn't hold up to daylight scrutiny. Even though Criss Brothers had moved out of the old brick building, he thought of his mother's and grandmother's funerals there, hardly anyone in attendance, now names out at Cedar Hill. Didn't like to walk by, all these years – decades! – later.
Christmas lights: not the big bulbs he once strung along the porch, when he had a family and a home to himself, oval shapes with paint chipping away, but a warm glow to each of them. With those you had to replace any bulb that burned out or the whole string went dark, and now you could have some dark spots but the rest still worked. Wonder how they do that?
So much "used to be." And what was? He wouldn't be, not much longer. But every year, that baby. They had been dolls or statues, then plastic with a bulb inside making the little smile shine, and now you see him projected onto walls with lasers.
Every year, he's born again. He's a newborn again and again, like that New Year's baby you used to see so often in ads next to a fellow who looked like…well, like he did now. The year about to exit.
And he was ready to exit. But that baby had made him some promises, and he'd tried to keep his to that child. There was a place for him, didn't matter if it was no better than a stable, on beyond, and that hope was good enough for the next world. He'd seen enough changes in this one.
But the baby would keep on coming back here, new memories, new generations, built on old enduring hopes. He couldn't have imagined as a kid going to the church he did now (back then they wouldn't have let him in the door, and he wouldn't have gone if they had), but God willing he'd be there tomorrow night for Christmas Eve. They were his family now. And there, the old, old story, about the new, new baby. Who brings us hope, and peace.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your "Christmases long, long ago" at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.