Well, i’ve lived in Santa Barbara for 27 years and haven’t really been back to my home town of Acton Massachusetts since then. This year, my mother and i decided to make a pilgrimage back to the old town, a “nostalgia tour” if you will. We chose a September long weekend, bought our plane tickets, and set out on a holy quest to revisit the places we once knew; places long-forgotten yet deeply remembered. It was fun, emotional, enlightening, sometimes spooky, often surprising, and ultimately incredible. Here’s a pictorial account of the trip of a (my) lifetime.
We found a great breakfast place in Acton called Bickford’s. We ordered the lobster benedict. We loved it so much, we went there all three mornings on our trip, and ordered exactly the same thing all three mornings! It was amazing.
Driving through town, we happened to pass a pool supply store called “Dunk & Bubble”. My dad designed their logo about 30 years ago. Amazingly, they were still in business, and still using my dad’s logo. We thought that was cool.
Our first stop was the very first place i ever lived, Ledgerock Apartments. This is where they brought me home from the hospital! Ledgerock is now condos. Our place was the bottom left unit, seen here:
Then on to the apartment where i spent most of my early childhood: Great Road Apartments (now condos too). Bottom floor. I had so many early memories here. I became a little boy here.
These horse swings were there 35 years ago and are still there. Here’s my sister swinging on the SAME horses in the 70s:
The rest of the playground equipment was the same, too. I guess some things never change.
One of the things i remember most from Great Road Apartments: The brick arches at the entrance:
And next door to this apartment where i spent my early childhood was a French restaurant, “Le Lyonnais”, where my mother worked (as their very first hostess) in the early-to-mid 70s. We walked over to take a few pictures.
We noticed a woman gardening in the back yard. My mom & i walked up to her and said “Hello!” She stood up, turned to us (wondering “Who are these people? Are they wondering if we’re open for lunch?”) then she looked at my mother and instantly melted, and said “Oh my goodness!! Bobbie!!!!” She was Joan, the co-owner of the restaurant, and she instantly recognized my mother after 27 years. It was an incredible thing for me to witness, as they hugged and re-connected. I realized that i was witnessing a beautiful moment. She even remembered ME, apparently she and my mom would have picnics with her kids and my mom’s kids (me and my sister) on the grass between the restaurant and our apartment. It was SO awesome to witness this re-connection, and to think that i was a part of it in the past, but so long ago that i don’t remember.
Visited the old Acton Library that has now been updated.
My nursery school:
Now a house, i think. But it was my nursery school, and i remember when my mom first dropped me off there, and i cried and screamed, “DON’T LEAVE ME HERE!!!!” But then i loved it.
Drove past my grandparents’ house on Minot Ave. It was right next to the elementary school that i went to. So many memories there.
Conant School. The place i spent kindergarden through sixth grade. Crazy. I know it’s a cliché to say that things look smaller when you go back to them, but hell; this place looked SO SMALL compared to what i remember it as!
The Conant lobby: Hasn’t changed a bit.
The path to the upper playground:
My grandmother’s house was next door to my elementary school, just off the playground. I was able to walk over to her house after school when i needed to. She also worked in the cafeteria of the school. It was SO cool to have my grandma serving us our lunch. I’d say, “Hi Mom!!” (i called my grandmother “mom” as she insisted that she was too young to be called ‘grandma’). I felt so cool calling the lunch-lady “Mom”!!
Her house was just behind those trees.
There are other certain specific spots i remember at Conant School. One of them is a huge boulder that was as big as a house, that i would try to climb:
And now, visiting it again, it turns out that it was only as big as a VW bus. Ok, ok… things looked bigger when you were a kid. I admit it.
There was this area surrounded by a rock wall that had a painted map of the United States on the asphalt. Not sure what the purpose was, but it’s still there.
The strangest thing about re-visiting somewhere is how overgrown things are. Why weren’t they overgrown when i was a kid? I mean, vegetation has been happening for hundreds of years, right? So why are things more overgrown after 25 years when they were clear for the past 200 years at least? Strange.
OK, story: When i was a baby, i was at my grandmother’s house in Acton, and i swallowed a magnet off the refrigerator. I started choking and turning blue. My mother and grandmother panicked and didn’t know what to do, so they frantically called our local family doctor, Dr. Mary Donald, who had been our general practitioner for years, and who lived and practiced only four blocks away. They told her i was choking, and asked if they should bring me to her office for help. Dr. Donald told them that there was no time, and instructed my mother & grandmother to turn me upside-down and squeeze my chest in measured sequences. They did so, and the magnet shot out of my throat and i began to breathe again. I was alive.
Years later, a man named Doctor Heimlich introduced a procedure called the “Heimlich Maneuver”. He has been credited with inventing the procedure which bears his name, but i know through personal experience that Dr. Mary Donald knew about it before that, and saved my life because of it. It will forever be known to me and my family as the “Donald Maneuver”. As it should be.
So me & my mom went to Dr. Donald’s home/office, of course, to see it and take some photos of the place that was so important to us.
And we knocked on the door… and she answered!! And i got to hug the woman who saved my life.
And then we explored Acton. This was a block from our house but we never knew what it was:
The Maynard Outdoor Store, where my parents took us for back-to-school clothes, is still there and exactly the same:
There was a mill in my neighborhood, Ericson’s Grain Mill, where we used to play. It was my stomping ground. I knew every inch of that place. We used to play, jump, climb, and fall there. I needed to re-visit it. So i did.
We used to walk onto that stone bridge and hang over the waterfall, risking our young life. We survived.
And on to my high school — boy was it different! It had expanded to probably twice as big as it was when i went there.
It looked nothing like this when i last attended.
The house my mom lived in when she was 15:
Idylwilde Farms fruit stand: What used to be a little fruit stand by the side of the road when i lived there; now a wonderful store with produce, cheese, artisan foods…
Where i met my mother:
New England seafood: Yes please.
On to Rockport!
Here’s where we stayed:
Evenings at the motel, at day’s end, found us convening in mom’s room for happy hour. Champagne, pâté, cheese & crackers, and a review of the day’s events.
Then we went to the flea market that we went to when i was a kid, in New Hampshire:
And one of the BEST memories from my childhood was going to that flea market. Specifically, buying MAD Magazines (MAD changed my life and made me who i am today) from this one comic book seller who was always there. He was a totally cool guy who always wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, and his collection of 60s and 70s MAD Magazines always drew me to him. I would always buy, without fail, at least 3 or 4 every time. MAD meant a lot to me then because, despite being a satirical humor magazine, always had biting social satire and it exposed the “phony” world of politics, advertising, it mocked popular culture’s pretense, tested its limits, and taught me how to thumb my nose at authority. But i digress… We were browsing the flea market, and ran across a guy selling MAD Magazines. I wasn’t sure if it was HIM, but i bought a couple of MADs from him. Walking away, my mom insisted that i go back to find out if it was really HIM. I walked back to him and asked him how long he’d been selling at this flea market. He said he’d been doing this for about 40 years. My mom asked him if he used to wear a cowboy hat. He said yes. Then i shook his hand and told him of the profound effect that he’d had on my childhood.
Too wild. Way too wild.
Then mom & i had a craving for ANOTHER lobster roll, so we drove to Salisbury Beach, where we knew we’d find a good one. We settled on the diveyest dive we could find (that’s how we travel — the more dive-y the place, the better the food). Lee’s Seafood it was.
THEN on to the main event… a visit to the house i grew up in, 101 Main Street, Acton MA. Built in 1844, the beautiful antique house where i had thousands of memories and hadn’t set foot inside in 27 years.
We walked into the woods behind the house, where i played and explored as a kid:
It was INCREDIBLE to be back in that house again. And the owners (the same couple who bought the house from us in 1985) were SO nice and welcoming, letting us into their home and poke around and take pictures.
The pond across the street where i fished, and caught frogs, and dreamed:
Then to the MAKAHA restaurant, where we always went for Chinese food when i was a kid. SO cool to go there again with my mom! We had cocktails and an appetizer combo. Nostalgia never tasted so good.
On our last day, we went to Walden Pond and hiked around the perimeter. It was a wonderful hike on a beautiful day:
Our feet in Walden Pond:
A Concord cemetery:
At the end of our trip (sadly): A must-stop at Friendly’s.
Finally, the obligatory Friendly’s watermelon sherbet:
I stole a Friendly’s plate for my mom. She told me not to do it, but i HAD to:
Flying back to LA after one of the greatest trips of my life: