The two of us were driving through the streets of Trenton, New Jersey, traveling back in time. In the state capital’s once-thriving shopping district, what were once busy and popular department stores were now cut-rate dollar stores catering to the city’s poor population. Many of the stores were closed or even boarded-up. Many of the buildings were in disrepair but some retained the fading aura of past glories, which my companion recalled vividly and fondly. The afternoon sun glinted off the state Capitol’s golden dome and reflected on the scene below.
Where you came from is just as important as where you are and where you’re going — maybe more important.
The year I was born, my young father was serving in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Maguire AFB adjacent to Fort Dix. I was born at the base hospital. My father and mother brought me home to their first apartment together, on the third floor of a house on what was then a nice street in a nice neighborhood, West State Street.
I’d never seen the house. My mother still remembered the address. Here’s the house on West State Street:
When I telephoned my mother that day she recalled taking a bus from this house to a downtown department store to buy her young husband a Christmas gift — a rod and reel! She even remembered that the reel was green — for what’s truly important can always be seen, clear as clear can be, even through the foggy ruins of time.
After a few months of hearing my “I’m hungry!” crying and “”Change me!” wailing, the homeowners asked my young parents to find other accomodations. So they moved to the second floor of a four-apartment building on Greenwood Avenue just over the Trenton border in Hamilton:
My mother remembered that two women of questionable morals lived in a downstairs apartment. It was and still is a busy avenue in a not-very glamorous neighborhood. There was a gas station across the street; now there’s a laundromat. But there is where my young mother and father celebrated their first Thanksgiving and first Christmas.
Both places are now in crumbling or already crumbled neighborhoods. The streets are dangerous at night. The people who live there are poor. But I hope and believe that in those homes love and dreams still abide.
Where you came from can determine where you’re going. It’s important to go back there once in a while.