The Death of the Place That Raised Me

I am in a small town in Missouri, the place that I grew up in. It’s been a trip of many revived memories, as my mom dug a whole bunch of my childhood belongings out of a storage space in my old room, and I’ve been going through the bittersweet process of sorting through everything, deciding what mementos to keep, and which to let go of as resources to send back into the cycle. So I’m already in a mindset deeply tied into my life as it was over twenty years ago.

Which meant that when I drove to the little patch of woods by my old house that I explored so much when I was still in my single digits, finding that it had been entirely leveled and replaced with a brand new building was an arrow to my heart.

I am still in shock, and so disbelieving. I feel I’ve lost a long-time friend, perhaps one that I lost touch with as I moved away, but never forgot entirely and visited when I could. And I never got to say a proper goodbye. I had no idea that the last time I visited would be the very last.

I know, I know. I get that the fact that this place stayed “undeveloped” as long as it did, in a podunk little town pretending it’s a big city, was pretty impressive. It’s actually the second place that I’ve seen destroyed. The woods behind the house we lived in next, and that I am visiting now, was almost entirely removed for a housing development. The spirit there still lives; much-diminished, and much more jaded, it still lives in the remnants of the woods that flank the artificially widened creek that sluggishly meanders through as best as it can.

And that destruction happened over fifteen years ago, when I’d only had a couple of years to connect with the spirit there. That experience, coming home on the school bus one day to find all the trees save for a few down and shattered–that was a horrible introduction to adulthood, and it really was where my childhood came to an end. Today, even those old wounds pulsed achingly.

I am still angry. I haven’t “gotten used to it” or “grown out of it”. And I feel isolated as I sit in a place where most people wouldn’t understand why I’m so deeply hurt by this loss. I’ve already been told “Oh, but the pharmacy people are so nice!” and given the attitude of “development happens, get over it”. Invalidation after invalidation. And it hurts, it just hurts so much.

That place? It taught me the joy of the outdoors, the fascination with other species, and my place as a human animal. It was my refuge when I began to experience bullying at the age of eight. It was my first minor rebellion, as technically I wasn’t supposed to be over on that side of the hill. But mostly it was a place where I could allow myself to explore, both the physical landscape, and my imagination. I wasn’t just a little girl in a pink coat wandering through the brambles and trying to avoid poison ivy. I was a wilderness seeker, living in a little cabin in the woods. I was a wolf, hunting rabbits in the tall grass. I was a snake basking on a big rock. I was so many things, each time I sneaked through the narrow pathway in the poplars and into the trails around the cedars.

I spent so much time in that place, that little maybe-half-acre of scrub woods, and now–now I can never walk there again. All I can do is hope that the few pictures I took on my last visit, two years ago, are still on my old laptop, that I can have a little more visual aid to help strengthen my memories in the wake of seeing this horrible shift.

Underneath the foundations of that building are the remnants of root systems from scraggly cedar and poplar trees that I hid among when I was young. There, too, are the nesting sites of Monarch butterflies, quite possibly relatives of the one that I watched in its chrysalis every day for two weeks until it emerged one spring day. And there lie the bones of the garter snakes and box turtles that were descendants of the ones I would catch, observe briefly, and release. There are stones that I stood on, lifted up to explore the life hiding underneath–snakes, crickets, centipedes, and more.

I won’t go back this trip. I won’t go back to try and find any last remnants of my place. I can’t bear it. I know I shouldn’t hold it against the new spirit of this place that is just being born. All places have spirits, including built-on ones. And I’m sure the pharmacy building now there will develop its own spirit over time.

But it’s not my place. The spirit of the place I knew is dead. Gone. Living only in my memories, and maybe in the remnant memories of a few other people who saw it as more than just an open lot.

All I have left is one single pine cone. I was going to go back at this trip and collect a few more mementos. I’m glad I have the one that’s left. It’s on my place altar. I hope it can stay safe there. It’s my last physical connection to the place that had so much meaning for me.

When I get home, when I can get back to that pine cone on my altar, I’ll spend some time looking for the pictures on my computer, and put together a mourning ritual to help me grieve. I’ll wait until I get back to a place where I know my anger and my sadness will be respected for what they are, instead of having them minimized and invalidated. I’ll go to where I can be safely held in my hurt, and remember the place that held me when I hurt so many years ago.

Until then, it’s not “just a place”. I’m not just “making a big deal out of nothing”. I have to remember that. I can’t let my grief be derailed by others’ expectations of how I should feel or what should be important to me. I spent too much time living up to the expectations of others, and I’ll be damned if I deny my hurt any longer for a place that formed me in ways no human being ever did.

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13 thoughts on “The Death of the Place That Raised Me

  1. It hurts me to read this, because I hear some of my own story reflected here. I grew up in a trailer park, and one of the few saving graces for it was that there was a good-sized wood behind it, stretching for a mile or two. My brother, friends and I played there, from pretending we were animals to our favorite heroes from TV shows. It was a magical place, but a dangerous one at times; drugs were dealt and done back there by older kids and some adults, and a bully of mine for many years once took a bow back there and tried to kill us with it. Yet for all those times, we kept going back, finding fallen branches that became staves, wands, swords. We kept going back and were animals walking through our woods. Gods I miss that woods with an ache. I raged the day the trailer park tore it down to make room for more trailers, all made the same, with dull, identical streets. I don’t know if you ever quite get over where you spent that much of your childhood getting destroyed like that.

  2. I spent my early years in Missouri as well before we moved to Iowa. The last time I went to my family home, I stood under the pear tree and looked up at the sun through the blossoms, and knew that there would be a time I would miss it. Before I returned, my parents had sold it off, so I was glad for the premonition, but it did not help. My mother died shortly thereafter, and all I had from either her or that home was a dried sunflower head. Letting go of it was an act of love, but it took years. The only thing that helps me in grief regarding these things is to remember that trees are compartmentalizing creatures. Leaves fall in the proper season. Leaves grow again in time. This too shall pass away, and we are the flowers of our understanding. May you bear the fruit of it.

  3. I’m sorry for your loss. There are places near where I grew up that sound very similar, and my heart would break if the same thing happened to them even though I haven’t been back in years. I hope you’re able to find those pictures and that they help you start grieving properly.

  4. Lupa, I’m SO sorry. It’s bad enough when this happens, but it’s worse when it’s unexpectedly come upon. Your grief and pain are totally valid, and NO, you’re not making a big deal out of nothing.

    This happened to me some years ago, when the deYoung Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park was torn down. I grew up going to that museum; my mom brought me there when I was barely able to walk, and it was a much loved place that I visited as often as possible. I met my first mummy there. When I brought my husband and son to the Park that day, I had NO idea that all we would find was a huge pile of chunked up concrete surrounded by a chain link fence, with only the two lone sphynx statues still guarding the empty space. I don’t think I’d ever felt so shocked or so horrible; I felt like I’d gone to visit my best friend and only found their grave. But I felt even worse later when I saw the hideous steel and concrete abortion they erected in its place. I will never go back; the pain is too great.

    • I loved the style of the deYoung; it was a work of art itself, and had a wonderful feel of history. Its replacement, The Coffin of Great Cthulhu, is a flexible, neutral set of interiors to show art in, contained in an ugly envelope. The money should have been spent renovating it, not replacing it.

      • Thanks… I’m glad someone else feels similarly. And I definitely appreciate the Cthulhu “coffin” label; never thought of that, but it certainly fits. 🙂

  5. On a much smaller scale, I felt this when I moved out and left my husband. Going back to the house to pick up the last of my stuff, I had to do double checks of the bedroom to be sure I’d picked up all of my stuff, and in a way I couldn’t even articulate I just felt extremely agitated, because it no longer reflected my presence and became foreign and hostile to me.

  6. I think your John Muir quote pretty much says it.

    also:

    My heart abides in all the old wild places that I knew,
    true to my heart I seek wild places still;
    there’s a presence there that feeds me,
    fills needs I’ve never told,
    that the city doesn’t hold, and never will….

  7. It is my belief that many wild places have been uprooted and destroyed over the years. I was raised for the most part in Southern CA and even in the deserts and beaches I could see the damage by the 1990’s. I remembered blankets of a particular iceplant that grew all over the beach and it is all but virtually extinct now. Even with the efforts to keep people off-roading in the desert to keep from destroying it all, you can still see the changes. In any event, I can definitely relate to how you feel, and it is quite reminiscent of JRR Tolkien’s musings in many of his writings – painful to read his accounts of the machine of industry usurping the woods he so adored.

  8. I’ve read this post many times, and passively considered a response each time. After reading your most recent post “Coming Together in Our Sorrow” and reading many posts about community among pagans, I finally pulled something together.

    I went and looked at the green belt in a suburb around Memphis that I had spent many afternoons and Saturday mornings in. As an elementary school kid, I would run to this belt where other neighborhood kids would cross and take a short cut home. I ran north of the rocky stream crossing and hid in a small alcove. Being an autistic girl, I suffered bullying as well. Between verbal, mental, and physical abuse at home, sexual abuse down the street, and more abuse at the school, I had to find a place of my own to get away from something so hellish and constant.

    That was when the daydreams came. That’s where I found my spark for writing. That’s when my imagination would burn like incense, and whatever gods that watch over me imparted their love to me.

    I learned how to be quiet from the woods, and how to meditate with slow breathing. I found a turtle that looked like a cross between Graptemys pulchra and Graptemys pseudogeographica, and my first interactions with the spirits started.

    I looked up that green belt today. It still exists, although I’m unsure as to if the stream still remains. I doubt that I would be able to return there for years.

    I’m so sorry that your sacred place is gone. (hug)

    • Thank you for your words and your hug! I think there are a lot of us who had these small, sacred places that gave us the room to breathe. If for no other reason, these places are important because they’re a respite from the stresses of life; we are rabbits ducking into the underbrush to have a few moments’ peace from the hawk and the fox that pursue us.

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