Going Home to Recall a 'Center-Point'

November 13, 1994|By FRAN M. BARTLETT

Today I went home again, back to the little Maryland town of Mt. Airy where I grew up, to the yard where I played and the streets where I skated and the hills where I rode my bike.

I parked in the lane near the printing shop where I had learned the rudiments of typesetting, and watched my father (former Mount Airy mayor Archley Molesworth) and my brother run the big press.

A young man was working on his car. When I told him why I was there, he invited me in to see the rooms which he and his family now call home. I thanked him but declined. Instead, I sat on the front steps of the house where I was born, and let memories flood my mind and nostalgia fill my heart. I could envisage behind me familiar rooms furnished as I remembered, but at the same time I was aware that much had changed, as the house had been carved into apartments for three families now.

Other changes lay before me. Gone is the concrete walk where I first learned to skate, and then practiced for hours on end. Gone are the three trees that had separated our house from the road. The memory of one of these is very special to me. My swing hung from one branch, and the other branches were obviously meant to be climbed.

In his book, "The Red Pony," John Steinbeck describes Jody's "center-point, a patch of perpetually green grass," where Jody retreats to soothe feelings made ragged by meanness, or punishment, or "barriers set up in his mind," just by life itself. This tree became my "center-point." When I was hurt or angry or just out-of-sorts with the world, I'd climb to an upper branch to sit and reflect, or I'd pack a sandwich and an apple, take a book and climb up there to read and daydream. Or sometimes I'd just perch up there ready to surprise unsuspecting neighbors by greeting them as they walked beneath me.

Gone is the wide front porch on the house across the road. There I played with visiting grandchildren, and learned to "skin the cat" on the holly tree in the front yard. And from that house came a favorite story oft-repeated in our family.

The grandfather had a peg leg, and I was fascinated as I watched him hoe his garden and mow his lawn, handling his uneven gait so efficiently. Often at night, I would lie in my bed and listen to the plop-tap, plop-tap, plop-tap as he climbed slowly up the hill from town. Then suddenly he was gone, leaving his wife alone.

Fran Molesworth Bartlett lives in Westminster.

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