Can You Go Home Again?

Traveling along the West Coast, I have relived many memories.  Nothing has been as reminiscent as my stay on Ft. Lewis this past week.  Ft. Lewis in Lakewood, Washington was my home for almost three years from age 15 - 17.  I lived so many firsts on the fort, and much of who I am today came from my experiences there.  Even my becoming a History teacher came from my influences at Lakes High School, the high school serving the post.

When we first arrived on post this week, I thought my hopes of going home again were going to be shattered.  I drove around to all of my old hangouts, only to find such change.  Life had gone on without me there, and the changes were very evident.  The post commissary and PX were much larger and in new locations, the Burger King where I worked my first taxed job was an empty shell with a newer version sitting perpendicular, and the housing where I lived looked as though it had seen much better days.

 Driving off post to find my old high school did not help the situation.  I found the location, but the remaining part of the building now housed the district offices, and my school rival, Clover Park High School was sitting in grand presence right next door.  I was later informed that my old stomping ground was rebuilt just a few miles away, but to me, it was just gone.

And then there was my real home; the place I lived most of my hours while my step-father was stationed on Lewis... the skating rink.  It was where I spent my Friday and Saturday nights, showing my skills (and flirting with guys!), and I worked as a skate guard on weekend afternoons to pay for my entry and my black leather, high top speed and trick skates with the metallic blue strings and pom-poms that I just had to have.

The rink has been remodeled, and that was evident from the moment we pulled into the parking lot.  Even more upsetting, it was Friday night at 7 p.m. and I could not hear the music blaring or see the lines stretched around the turnstiles and out the door.  What had happened?  Time...

With my husband's urging, I went on in and requested a pair of speed skates.  As I tied them on, I asked questions of the counter worker about the evolution of the rink.  Where were the teens?  Why were there children here on a Friday night?  Where was the loud music and the crowds of GIs speeding and whistling around the outside edge of the wooden floor?  She couldn't answer my questions, but she found someone who could.

The older gentleman explained that he took over for Cliff, the master of everything roller skate, when Cliff retired in 1999.  Then, it was still a popular place for the teens, including all of the town rats that came in for Friday nights.  But then it all changed in 2001... September 11th.

Fort Lewis is an active, and very large, military post.  In the mid-80s, I remember going on lock down when Qaddafi threatened the United States.  Our buses were stopped at the gates each day, and we had to present our IDs to the MPs who stepped on board each bus, carrying their rifles as they approached.  But that ended quickly, and life was back to normal.  September 11th was a different story.

After the attacks on the twin towers in NYC, the post was closed to all outsiders, including the neighboring teens who came in those Friday nights.  And the soldiers?  They were more concerned with preparing for deployment than they were skating in circles as the strobe lights rolled around.   The rink died.

So last Friday night, I skated, and the new old guy was kind enough to put on some 80s tracks so I could relive my youth for just a few minutes.  And to my surprise, I stayed upright, made a few turns, performed a few tricks, and impressed my husband, who didn't know me way back then, just a little bit with my skating skills!

So, what is the lesson here?  You can go home again, but history is important.  Current events turn into the recent past, and those circumstances turn into history.  It changes what is familiar to us, and creates something new for the next generations to live and then remember.  Had I not become a History teacher, and taught this very lesson to my students for years, after learning it myself from Mr. Hurt at the original Lakes High School here in Washington in the late 1980s, I might not have understood what happened to my home from way back when.  I might have cried, felt the loss of my old friend, and mourned what I no longer had.  Instead, I circled the rink just a few more times, knowing I can go home again, through my memories, any time I want!
Michele Luck