Back in the late 1950s, all my Army brat pals lived in an on-base community at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, which was only a few miles from Waynesville. So after seeing how far "nothing had changed" can be taken, I drove from that small town to the base to check out my old stomping grounds there.
I had done this sort of thing before. In December, 1969, I took time off from my Vietnam tour to meet my wife for a week of R-and-R in Honolulu. While there, I visited what used to be Fort Shafter, where I lived from 1947 to 1951. I was relying on some pretty old childhood memories, but I found the spot where my home used to be. A newer housing complex had replaced the old one. But 20 years after my earliest memories, I was able to revisit where they happened.
Once I entered Fort Leonard Wood, I wasn't sure how to get to where I used to live. I knew that once I was on the main road, I had to take a right, but which one? So I let my intuition be my guide. As I approached a particular street, I just knew this had to be the right one. I couldn't explain how I knew; it just felt right.
As I climbed the hill, memories started to return. But as I approached the area to turn into my community, the street wasn't there. Maybe my intuition was wrong. I circled back, confused. Everything felt right, but my old street wasn't there. Just an open field with a forest behind it.
When I reached the spot where my old house had to have been, I saw a few broken remnants of a concrete foundation. I went deeper into the forest and saw the fire-break where I had once built a tree-house and where I got sprayed by a skunk one night. My own teen journey had begun on this spot.
I followed the ghost-images of missing streets around to where the old theater used to be. Traces of foundation on the ground. My best friend's dad managed the theater. My Boy Scout building had been next to it. Now, nothing but forest.
Back in my car, I realized that I had seen something that few people ever see. In the modern world, forests are cleared, creature habitat is destroyed and communities are built. Here, the opposite had happened: a community had been cleared, human habitat had been destroyed and a forest was allowed to recover the earth. Improbable, but true. Unprecedented, perhaps. I guess at some point the homes in the community got too old to maintain, so they bulldozed them all down. But instead of replacing them, they built a new community somewhere else. And let nature take its course. Still, it's weird to see your boyhood town vanish like that.
Before I left Fort Wood, I went to the main PX to get a haircut. I told the barber that I was recently retired, a civilian, so go easy, don't cut the sides too close. As he did his work, I looked at the people around me. Dressed in starched camouflage fatigues, they seemed purposeful and in a hurry. And definitely not happy. It was just a feeling, but I realized that even though I used to live here and even though my ID card can get me onto any military base, I didn't belong here.
So I got into the Rabbit and headed south to Joplin, where my grandfather lived in a nursing home. He was 92 and I thought this might be my last chance to see him. What I didn't know was that my encounter with Grandpa would be as strange as everything else that had happened to me that day.
That story in my next post...
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .