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 latest 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.