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Asphalt to Eden

Posted by djingodjango on Monday, March 26, 2012


Asphalt to Eden

© 2012 by

George Heath Locke



Concord New Hampshire in 1949 was a perfect town for my size.  It had a soul and it was a friend you could trust.

From where I lived at 9 Monroe Street, Ma would send me to the corner store with a dollar or two for something and dad would give me a quarter later in the day after he came home from work to run to the same store and pick up a pack of Old Golds. There was never any worry about my safety even though I was barely seven.


Come Saturday and for a half-a-buck I could walk, unaccompanied, to the Star Theater (Now the Star Building) on Pleasant Street and have a heck of a good afternoon.

A quarter to get in and watch the newsreels, coming attractions, one or two cartoons, a travelogue and a B Movies – plus – a serial, such as “Gene Autry and the Phantom Empire”. 

Concerning the last item, you have not lived, my friend, until you have seen a bunch of cowboys dressed in tin-foil hats and clothes and flowing capes galloping out of the ground to raid the local ranches and then disappearing again into the earth to a futuristic city complete with transparent transportation tubes, towers and soaring ramps. It was cool.

With the change after I got in to the movie I could purchase a box of popcorn for a dime and a box of juju babies for a nickel. They pulled my fillings out but I loved them. Except the licorice ones. Yucch!

And the remaining ten cents?  I could get an ice-cream cone at a mom and pop grocery store on the way home.

Concord did lack some things; like grass, gently rolling hills, acres of wild-flowers, pasturelands, oceans of blueberry, raspberry and black-berry bushes, tall and monumental granite cliffs and beautiful blue skies. 

I just saw a lot of asphalt, concrete, cement, tarpaper and house-lots filled with packed, brown dirt.

 But that was ok. Concord in the late forties did have some big trees and occasional parks where I would go with the old man summer afternoons and watch him and his brothers play baseball.  There were some backyard lawns – I had one next to where I lived. I played on it and tried not to step in the dog-pooh or more dangerous stuff that folks discarded.

One weekend, I tried to do a cartwheel and did not notice the broken and jagged end of a glass “fire-engine” that once contained those teeny-weeny round candies, like multi-colored sugar bb’s, that was sticking up and all but hidden by the grass.. In less time then it takes to say “holy poop, I just surgically removed part of my right thumb”, I saw rivers of blood and a rather large gash.

I did not cry but went promptly into the house, holding everything together and said, in my cutest little Georgie-porgie voice. “Hey mumma. Do you want to see what I did?” I uncovered my damaged hand and then I started to cry.  Well – mum took me right up to the Concord Hospital, which was pretty big even then, and a doctor tended it, (and I spurted blood all over his clean, white shirt which ticked him off. I actually think he sent a cleaning bill to my folks.) He sewed it up. I have the scar to this day.

Concord only had three things that scared the living hell out of me.

Fire stations, manhole covers and Catholic churches. Not necessarily in that order.

I always dreaded walking down one particular street where the fire station was because I was afraid that the doors would suddenly slam open and I would be run over by dozens of siren-screaming, red metal fire trucks. Somehow they would just roar out of the bowels of the engine house and instantly flatten me. I think someone told me a story of one little boy this terrible thing happened to. Like many urban legends, it probably held a tiny amount of truth.

Manhole covers were easy to avoid. As long as I didn’t step on one, I wouldn’t be hurt if, for some ungodly reason, it decided to explode then and there, carrying me with it. I thought this might happen after having been told (again) by some adult (probably the old man) that some one had DIED once while stepping on a manhole cover just as it blew up.

Catholic churches?  Well, see, I walked by them occasionally on my way to school.  The doors were open sometimes and the inside looked dark. And spooky. And full of hooded chanting figures with flickering candles. And there was a guy stapled to a piece of wood on the wall. I had this vision of dozens of dark cloaked Catholics rushing from the church to grab a little Baptist boy and carry him back inside to do heaven knows what with him.

To say I had an imagination is putting it mildly.

So imagine my surprise one day when my dad said to me. “Hey Joe-dee.”- He and ma occasionally would call me by that name-“We’re going to move to Vermont.” He smiled. My mother didn’t. My little sister Candy went along with it. “Doesn’t that sound like fun? You can have a room of your own up in the attic and you can paint it any color you want.”

I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. But I didn’t have a lot of friends so I guess I could make some new ones. I would get to go to another school. It was a small town. Dad had a better job and would make a little better salary. I thought it might be ok.

We moved in the summer of 1950 or 1951.  I’m not positive of the exact year. It seemed like an awful long drive from Concord NH to Wilmington Vermont.  But I did get to paint the attic room any color I wanted. I picked a light bluish-green color because it looked like the sea and I pictured myself living in a glass dome under the ocean.  The room even had a normal sized outside window that was tipped at a 60 degree angle to follow the lower roof line that I could slide open or closed. Now that was cool.

But the real thrill came after settling down the first day or so.  My folks said that, if I wanted, I could go explore the hill behind the house; a big, sprawling, white, 19th century connected architecture farm house.

And the minute I climbed it and turned around to look, I knew I had found my kingdom.

It was precariously steep for about ten meters from the bottom up, then it flattened out a bit, but still rose for another 50 meters or so until it was looped by a stone-wall with a section of the wall opened. Then the hill continued its upward race, now very steep and studded with atlas sized boulders, granite bulwarks and crumbling stone ramparts.

I pushed further up until I came to a lazy stop on a treeless highland table-top; the grass whispering with the wind and foaming and billowing like water around my legs.

As I look back now I realize it was something akin to Adam awakening after God breathed life into inanimate clay and he caught his first glimpse of Eden.

The smell was something I had never known. It was clear and clean and filled with the living odor of crushed wild thyme, lavender, clover, golden rod, raw grass and freedom!  I looked all around, a full three hundred and sixty degrees.

There was green everywhere, stitched together with ancient stonewalls, brush, chokecherry bushes, crab-apple trees, with pink flowers bursting from each branch, birch, walnut and maples.  And hills. So many hills with tiny white farms and a distant steeple.

I sat on an outcropping of warm gray stone, etched with lichen and moss. I didn’t know stone could be so warm. I lay face down on it and rested my head. It became an instant friend.  My senses were opened and I felt so alive. 

For a half-dozen years, that hill and all that lay beyond became my place to go when I wanted to be alone. To be at peace.

The springs brought life to my kingdom; the summer days hanging warm and soft about the rim, carrying the sounds of wild birds, doves, thrushes, larks and goldfinch. The fall was a magic time when the hills became colored bedspreads for a giant. They glowed with so many colors; each with subtle tones of reds, orange, yellow, brown and rust. And the winters provided the Sebring of sledding. The Nuremburg Ring of Flexible Flyers. You could slide forever on that distant hill. Forever!

I recall that first spring roaming the hills from one green Eden to another, sometimes passing milk cows that patiently moved in the cool of the shade and drank from incredibly clean and clear streams of water that sprung from hillsides to gather and plash over rocks to the Brown Brook. I explored and saw things I had never imagined existed.

Each day after the first time, I rushed from the breakfast table to push father up and in. And when I did, I saw miracles my time in the city had never prepared me for.

There were deep copses of trees, with noon time shadows among that were black and limned with green or blues. Dozens of pools of clear water that froze your bare feet but felt so good after miles of hiking.

Little caves in the hillsides made as mighty rocks dropped from a tired and beaten glacier as it retreated north thousands of years before.

My imagination took me everywhere on those hills..

I was Ethan Allen and I would hunt Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne’s Red Coats on that hill, using a large golden-rod with a crook in the center as a “Brown Bess” flintlock rifle.

Or a wild Indian with a stout stick for a bow and several golden rods shoved down the back of my shirt for my quiver.

Robin Hood and His Merry Men toasted their absent King, Richard the Lionheart, and drank make-believe nut-brown ale and split arrows as they laughed at The Sheriff of Nottingham’s futile efforts to round up the noble archer and his jolly band of rouges on that hill behind my house in Wilmington Vermont.

I remember some dozen or so years later - during my first marriage.  I started driving in Laconia NH one summer’s afternoon with my wife and kids and I got onto Route 9 west and drove all the way to Wilmington.

Something was pushing at me. Something was telling me to go back to that hill. That things would be ok if you got to that hill. It was like a fire in me. It consumed me beyond the point of rationality until I drove into the yard of my old house and fairly leapt out the door of the car, followed by my precious little daughter Lizzie.

“Wait for me daddy.” She cried, but I was pulled up that hill, now overgrown with weeds and new growth trees. I ran to the top, my little girl trying to catch up to me. And when I got to the top I stopped. My kingdom had been swallowed by time.

There was, indeed, no going home again. I picked up my daughter and slowly started down.

Sometimes it is best to leave the memories where they rest.

I travel Route 9 at least once a year to visit relatives in New York and I drive through town, and glance at the hill, now a tiny tall forest of trees, and I remember that first spring. It took my breath away and left Eden in its place.

1 comment on “Asphalt to Eden”

TimDreamer Says:
Monday, March 26, 2012 @7:24:26 PM

We never really can go back home, can we? Wonderful tale, it resonates with my soul.

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