We all have thoughts of past roads we have traveled. In talking to people over many years, the one I find most traveled is the one leading to our high school.
I am old when I board the streetcar at Tuscaloosa Avenue and Center Street in almost the twilight of the evening. I deposit my money in the slot, and suddenly I am a high school youth again. The streetcar is one of those old clackety clanging kind. Had it been a newer version, my time travel might never have taken place. The streetcar has a sound system, and radio shows are heard. “The Shadow”. “The Green Hornet”. “Life of Riley” The soap “Stella Dallas”. “Let’s Pretend”.
I look to my right at Elyton Grammar School where I spent some good times before heading for WEHS.
I notice those already on the streetcar are young as I am. We go past the beginnings of Elton B. Stephens’ magazine business on the left, and Mobley’s grocery store on the right. We make a couple of stops, and the old are renewed as they board and pay their fare.
We stop in front of Alley’s drugstore, and a number of people board. The streetcar seems almost full. We pass the West End Baptist Hospital where the mother of one of my good friends is a nurse. We live only two and a half blocks from the hospital.
We pass the A&P store on the right, and the West End Baptist Church at 12th Street. At 13th Street we have a crowd boarding the streetcar that must have just come from the end of the movie at the West End Theatre. I am amazed at the capacity of our transportation. I glance to my left at Hemphill Grammar School, and wonder how many went there.
The only two things I note at 14th Street are Levy’s Department Store and the Masonic Temple on the second floor above it. A few more people board.
We turn left onto Pearson Avenue then right. For those who have never seen the interior of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church there, they should. Fadely’s drugstore is there as we loop right again for a straightaway to Berney Points, a busy place. Berney Points Baptist, Hill’s grocery store, two service stations, Riddlehoover’s BBQ, Charlie’s BBQ, a drugstore, and just beyond Massey-Vance Hardware. John Louis and I are friends, and know his father will give me a good deal if I’m in need of merchandise from the hardware store.
Cusimano’s grocery is on the next corner. A place I never visited, but wish I had. The streetcar is at the turn-around, and I exit, along with dozens of others. We all start walking in the same direction, as the dusk of the evening is evident.
Three or four blocks distant is our school, WEHS, and there appears to be a street party going on. As we come near, we see the street is blocked off from traffic. There is a huge wooden stage that has been erected in the front yard of WEHS, just adjacent to the stone WEHS monument.
I meet and greet folks I haven’t seen in years. In fact, I think some of them may have died, but lives and deaths run together as you go through life, and you’re never quite sure. It’s good to see those I thought I would never see again.
The dance floor is most occupied when the band plays an upbeat version of the song “Friendship”. Then Baker Knight and his band play one of his own compositions “There’ll Never Ever Be Anyone Else But You”. And another one of his “The Wonder of You”, slo-mo for those who like to snuggle, and there are plenty of couples who do that. Those songs are good. A couple of well-known singers should record them.
The night moves too fast, and the witching hour is approaching. There is an invitation only dance for the song “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”. I can’t see the singer, but she sounds very much like Vera Lynn, the sweetheart of British forces during WWII and the most played version of the song.
I look out on the dance floor, and see couples dancing, older now, and married in life, some of whom, men and women, have already departed this earth. A tear rolls down my cheek, celebrating the fact they have been given one more fleeting moment together.
Baker and his band launch into a version of “When the Saints go Marching In”, and the necessary ones disappear into a mist down toward the football practice field. Those still on the dance floor take a few moments to gather themselves.
I look down, and my hands have returned to the age I am. I look up, and everyone has disappeared. WEHS is gone.
It wasn’t real, was it? But there on the ground beside me is a brick, an old brick. I place my hand upon it, and know that what I saw was real, indeed real.