Returning to Seward home, most things look much smaller

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 13:36

They say when you return to a childhood home, things look much smaller. Continuing the theme of physical space mentioned in a previous column, I recount a few memories from my childhood.

Over the years I’ve watched my old home in Seward morph from a small, single-story cottage with a big front yard into a sprawling, two story structure that occupies nearly every square foot of the lot where as kids, we once played for hours.

While my vintage 1940s house today appears much larger than I remember, everything else in Seward seems smaller: the streets, alleys, yards, trees and distances between things. Many of the vacant lots that were once “woods” have been replaced with houses and other buildings.

It makes me wonder where today’s kids play. Come to think of it, on several visits to my old home town, I’ve seldom seen many children playing outside the way we did. Are they all indoors, sitting behind televisions, computers or playing video games?

The mountains, including Mt. Marathon, all look about the same as they did in my youth, as does Resurrection Bay. But downtown, stores and businesses seem to have shrunk, especially when I go in inside. A few of the old businesses still retain their original names: Urbach’s clothing, where my sister once worked; Brown and Hawkins, one of Seward’s first stores dating back to the early 1900s; and the Alaska Shop.

Despite some modest growth over the years, paved streets and a flood of tourists during summers, Seward hasn’t changed much. And In such a rapidly changing, transitory world, there’s a strange sense some comfort in that.

For example, I recall returning to the town after a 10-year absence and noticing that one of the same, round rocks that lay at the edge of our old yard was still there. At first I thought I might have mistaken it for any one of the grey, glacier-smoothed rocks scattered around. But the big white line across the top, a quartz intrusion, was quite distinctive.

It’s rather haunting to return to the place of my childhood, where so many memories linger. As children in the 1950s we didn’t know much about the world beyond. Perhaps indicative of America during that period, it was a carefree and happy time. Our parents were employed, we owned our own homes, albeit small, and there was always food on the table. Not many people went on vacations, and some people, like us, didn’t own a car. We didn’t have television until the 1960s and in many ways, were cut off from the outside world.

But there was something reassuring about the sense of community — much like what we have in Eagle River — that made life in Seward quite special. People looked out for one another, and for us it was both a blessing and a curse. If we got a bruise or scratch near a friend’s house, we received instant treatment. If we were hungry, we were fed. On the flip side, if we were getting into trouble, our friendly neighbors were quick to pick up the telephone and report the transgressions to our respective parents.

The telephone was on a multiple party line, so eavesdropping on other people’s conversations was a common practice. There were very few secrets in Seward.

The mother of my best friend next door was truly my “second mom.” I loved her glazed donuts, but even at an early age I was tactful enough not to let my first mom know that I liked my second mom’s donuts better than hers.

Looking back: Each Fourth of July when I climb Mt. Marathon to watch the race from the top, I look down on the small town where I grew up and marvel at just how small it is, and what little space we roamed around in as children. Back then it seemed like miles, but from half a mile above and 60 years later, it looks incredibly small — a football field or two.

Reflecting on my life in that little town so long ago, I can’t help think about my friends and others — where they are and what they might be doing. I’ve kept up contact with some of them over the years, but most have moved away and are scattered to the wind.

People visit Seward for many reasons: to fish, go boating, visit the Sea Life Center, take in the scenery, or partake in festivities like the Fourth of July. For me it is like entering a time machine. And the longer I stay, the harder it is to leave.

I think there will always be something from our past that holds on to us — a quieter time when life was less complicated, when there weren’t so many conflicting voices, when truths were easier to divine. Perhaps we need to occasionally re-visit such places. However small and distant they might seem today, they could reveal interesting insights about our past.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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