I love visiting historic landmarks. But as I get older I have also started visiting some “personal” landmarks that have helped shape my life.
You know the places. Maybe a first date or a memorable ballgame. Where you became a witness to something great or even small. Where you learned to ride a bike. Or where you first fell off.
They may not have plaques or markers, but personal landmarks represent our own histories, and if you go back once in a while and even document them, you might be surprised at their power.
Places where memories may still hang
These are places where memories may still hang; memories that may trigger some strange emotional pulse that helps clarify or make sense of your life today.
I took a journey like this as part of my book, Hello It’s Me, Dispatches From a Pop Culture Junkie. The book is a collection of essays and stories about some people, places and things I’ve been fortunate enough to rub up against (or vice versa).
Writing the book was a chance to time travel a bit, recalling past experiences and trying to craft them into story form.
I moved away from the New York area to California in 1987, and while I return to the city often enough, I had not done much in the way of exploring landmarks where I grew up, slightly north in Westchester County. So I took this as an opportunity to return to places I’d never been back to, and along the way, reconnected with some people from the past.
An example of a meaningful landmark
As a teenager, I had the good fortune to study with the great American fiction writer John Cheever. He was a neighbor and after I wrote him to ask for help with my writing, he obliged by inviting me over to his house to review some stories I’d written in school.
This began a friendship that lasted until he passed away in 1981.
On vacation in New York two years ago, I drove past Cheever’s house on Cedar Lane near Route 9A in Ossining. Out on the road in front of their property, the old gray metal mailbox I remembered with the name “Cheever” hand-lettered in black paint had been updated.
Peeking down the driveway and looking at the house set back against the woods, I could picture him getting into his red Volkswagen Rabbit to drive me home after that first visit. Then I thought back to what he told me at that meeting: “Keep a journal, start today and don’t stop. It forces you to write and that’s good. Writers write, they don’t talk about writing and a journal strengthens the muscle. So go. Write.”
It all came back
It all came back, like some cinematic flashback. And then I knew I had to go up and sit on that porch once more where Cheever and I spent many an afternoon.
Cheever’s widow, Mary, is still alive. And as I discovered, she still lives in that house. So I contacted her and asked if I could visit what was for me, a most important personal landmark. And she was just as gracious as her husband had been more than thirty years earlier.
As I wrote that night, “Surreal to be back on the porch where I’d sit with John Cheever. It was a perfect lazy summer day and the yard glows green from all the recent rains. The Cheever’s Dutch Colonial Farmhouse (built in 1928 to resemble a house hundreds of years older) looks just as it did when I was last here almost 30 years ago. Set back in the woods, it still feels like a writer’s retreat. On the side of the house is the maple tree John Cheever would often sit under when thinking and writing.”
I am so glad I went back to that landmark.
Remember to visit personal landmarks
My friend, the writer Warren Beath (The Death of James Dean), wrote this: “I like to read and build an architectural structure of the imagination, and the final step is actually to walk into it—to inhabit the same space as the events while experiencing them emotionally. I seem to retain a connection with the event and the place, and I relive it continually. These are the places of my dreams.”
I believe he is referring to places of great historical importance, but it also holds true for places that are not so famous.
“Personal landmarks,” spots where we ourselves did something grand, learned something, grew, saw the light, saw the darkness – places you can always revisit to rekindle a memory or even teach your kids something about you.
As anonymous as they may seem to the rest of the world, these spots are yours – you were there – so don’t forget them – appreciate those places and a part of you will live there forever.
Read more from Chris Epting here.
Chris Epting is an author, award-winning journalist/photographer and dedicated road tripper. His best-selling books including James Dean Died Here (the locations of America’s pop culture landmarks), Roadside Baseball, and The Birthplace Book, along with many others that remain popular with many travelers and RVers throughout the country and world. He is excited to be contributing to RVTravel.com and looks forward to helping to lead you places you may not have discovered otherwise. You may learn more about Chris at his author’s site, www.chrisepting.com.
Unfortunately where I grew up in Cypress Texas what used to be the country is no more along with all the places they have torn down all our memories are gone in the name of progress!😡
I love this idea!
In addition to personal memories, we also enjoy visiting genealogical landmarks to help give context to our ancestor’s past.
Recently we visited my mother’s childhood town in Robertson County, TX. While there’s nothing much there for others to see, I adored walking the town square and going inside Pharmacy where I know they visited on days they went into town from the family farm.
We did exactly that this past summer—a 2 month trip we called “Roots”. Stayed at parks we’d not been to in years, some were 40+ years ago, reconnected with old friends…it was wonderful. Made new memories while remembering our old ones.
Went by to see the gov house that we lived in during 1948-1953 (USAF housing). Was amounts the first new housing after WWII. Junior officer quarters. Later, added kitchen room was added.
Went by in 1970’s, still there, but then low ranking sub- standard lower enlisted quarters.
Now, the housing area is leveled. Nothing but memories of the best part of my young life.
YEP, the DW and me have been doing this along with new journeys of course. It is a great trip to take.
Thanks for the “memories”…so true, so special…
Love the idea! Thank you, Chris.
I like this. A great idea. Problem is, most of my growing up years were in Chicago, and I’m not going back there – for all sorts of reasons. I’m in NV now and my wife and I have lived here for over 30 years. We have bunches of ‘landmarks’ to visit out here in the west. I never thought of this angle on ‘landmarkery’. I like it!