Into the Wayback Machine . . .

“Home” is a relative concept for me.

I’m approaching the half-century point on the birthday clock, and I believe that my current house (since 1999) is the 26th one in which I’ve lived, for a life-time average of more than one move every other year. Even by military brat and military grown-up standards, that’s a lot.

Some folks might put on the po’ po’ pitiful face and feel sorry for themselves for their lack of roots after such a peripatetic life history, but I tend to see things from the opposite perspective: I put roots down quick, and I feel a sense of belonging to a lot of places, rather than just a single spot.

In the past month, I’ve made return pilgrimages to two of the most formative of those places where I feel that I belong: Mitchel Field on Long Island (where I lived with my family from 1976 to 1980) and Albemarle, North Carolina (where my father grew up, and where I visited my grandparents regularly during my pre-college days).

I took my camera with me for both trips, both to record things that were meaningful to me, but also to capture the ways that these small communities have changed over the years, for better or (more often) for worse.

If you knew me while we lived in one of these places, then perhaps you’ll appreciate the photos as stimuli for walks down your own memory lanes.

But if you didn’t know me in those places, then here’s hoping that these photos still provide a peek into two small pieces of our country that have seen better days, like so many others, here, there, everywhere.

Maybe by contemplating the stories that these photos tell, we’ll realize how much we lost as a nation when we collectively traded in the charms of such distinctive communities for the consistent convenience that Wal-Mart, Target and other character-killing franchises bring  . . . so click on the photos below to see what is now, and to recall what once was . . .

Mitchel Field, New York, April 2011

Albemarle, North Carolina, April 2011

8 thoughts on “Into the Wayback Machine . . .

  1. I had a poli sci professor at ECU who spent the better part of an hour telling us that though the civil rights marchers of the early 60s had courage beyond measure, the thing that would bring the South kicking and screaming into the modern world was not legislation or media attention of Bull Connor. It was the Interstate highway, which would lead to McDonald’s and K-Mart at every exit (WalMart and Target were still regionals then), and a gradual but inexorable homogeneity.

    Interesting concept, and partially borne out, I believe.

    • The town where my OTHER grandparents lived when I was a kid (Ridgeland, South Carolina) was a prosperous little burg when US-17 was the main north-south corridor through the Low Country, but once they built I-95, Ridgeland dried up and blew away, while Hardeeville (with a more convenient exit) blossomed, if you consider a plethora of gas stations and firework stands to be progress . . .

      On the flip side, I watched a whole lot of sleepy little Eastern Carolina towns pop once they pushed I-40 down into Wilmington, so there’s definitely some truth to your prof’s contention there. There were plans, at one point, to build a new interstate to connect Florence, SC to Greensboro, NC to Roanoke, VA in a more straight north-south fashion, and the proposed corridor would have run right by Albemarle, but there’s been no progress made on that for a decade at this point, so I suspect it’s a budget casualty at this point . . .

      Albemarle died when the textile mills closed (it was once a Cannon company town), and when the Alcoa aluminum plants in nearby Badin shut their doors. The downtown is a wasteland now, but the strip mall zone on the southeast bypass (anchored by Walmart and Applebee’s) thrives . . . sigh . . .

  2. Thanks for posting the photos, Eric, I think. I am now so thoroughly depressed I can’t see straight. Really, why would Nassua C.C. let those buildings languish? Those houses, especially the Bane Road side larger homes and the grand homes on the parade ground were gorgeous. If I was a professor there I would have loved one of them!

    • Bane Road and the houses on the Parade Grounds are still looking pretty good, and I think those are faculty houses and/or offices . . .

      Ellington, Miller and Wheeler are a bit rough around the edges looking at this point, and I think they are still military housing.

      Not sure who’s responsible for the carnage up on North Road . . . it clearly looked like someone started to do SOMETHING, and then just quit . . .

      On the upside, the industrial wasteland between the base and Hempstead Turnpike is really blossoming for the most part now . . . the hangar line is called “Museum Row,” and there are some great museums there (Children’s, Cradle of Aviation, etc.). Hofstra has expanded from the southwest to take over that area of abandoned runways (their North parking lot is the opposite end of the piece that I photographed), and there are hotels and other businesses there, too . . .

      So some things improved, some things went south . . . and I remain fascinated by the process through which that happens over time . . .

      • It is fascinating, thanks for some good news. I was there about 10 years ago, and was thoroughly depressed then, too. I think it’s true, you can’t go home again — or at least, you shouldn’t. Sigh.

  3. Thanks for the photos . My father worked on the base from 1941-1949, when we moved into Uniondale. He was not in the military, but worked there . We lived in base housing across Stewart Avenue.I remember being on the base and then going to Nassau Community during the summers (1965-1967) and parking on the runways. During high school I would go to the base with friends to go swimming in the officers pool. Lots of memories. Thanks

    • Glad you enjoyed the photos, Lynn. Hofstra now lays claim to a lot of those old runway parking areas . . . though they have done landscaping around them to make them look neater, so you have to use your imagination a little to see airplanes landing on them!

  4. Oh, I had no idea we were kindred Southerns/Military Brats. When Dad retired in 76 we moved to Wilmington and he fought hard to get I-40 (east/west) finished to head straight there (north/south out of Raleigh). He had the forethought to also fight to revive the downtown and support the arts council. Wilmington seems to have some semblance of a balance between progress and preservation, making it a very desirable location. Mitchell Field just makes me sad, though. I enjoyed some really happy summers there with KM.

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