You Can't Go Back

By David McElroy
    My father's family is from a small town in Oklahoma.  Very little has changed since he grew up there.  Maybe just the faces. Maybe more.

   Thirty years ago, there were more than 25 of his family members living in or around this small town.  Today there are four.  Slowly but surely, one by one, we buried each of those 21 relatives year after year.  It seems the only times the rest of the family would get together would be for a funeral.  Now there's just my father, his brother, one aunt, and an uncle left.  We've even started calling that area 'Death Valley"  --  Every visit it was the same old thing: funerals, nursing home visits, old friends, friends that should be in nursing homes but aren't, and maybe the cemetery if there's time.

   It's scary watching the lives of generations receding into the grave.  When my father was a child he had great- grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, grandmothers, and grandfathers.  Now there's just Grandfather's sister and her husband. 

   But think -- someday my parents will be grandparents, then great-grandparents, and then it's my turn.  It's scary to think of myself filling the position of those people who seemed so old and fragile to me as a child.

    Usually he would point something out and begin telling a story.  We would crane our necks to see what he was talking 

 about, and see nothing --"Of course, it's not there anymore." was the phrase that usually followed most historical sites.  I say we saw nothing -- but, of course, he's looking through different eyes.

   Life's kind of like a job you fill -- you start out at the bottom and work your way up the ladder -- promotion after promotion after promotion, until that final great retirement.  Already we can see this drama acted out as we slowly lose those generations above us and we move up that ladder.  Like actors playing a part, we read our lines, walk through the motions: then a new role, new lines, new motions.  Fate always changes the script just before we finally get used to the part.

   We can see how the roles have changed as we visit our parents' home town.  To us, little has changed.  But we can see it in their eyes, and we can imagine.

   The old homestead is now lived in by strangers.  The trees  that used to be climbed are now rotting stumps in the ground.  Those train tracks that had pennies on them in time for the 12:22 are gone, also.

     Dad excitedly points out childhood memories relating a house foundation on a vacant lot to afternoons in the sun with friends that haven't been seen for over half a lifetime.


Return to 'Class of 55'

   There are funny stories, too.  Like the house of an ex-girl- friend, an industrial- strength Catholic family that convinced their daughter, my dad's steady girlfriend at one time. to give him up for Lent.  An honor, I guess Dad.

   Maybe it's hard for us to understand -- those of us who are shielded by a circle of other generations -- to look back into the past to a different world that shaped the lives of those we love. One day it will be our turn.

   So we get back into our car, all of us yelling at each other out of habit of speaking to the elderly hard of hearing, and drive back to my home.  But as we drive pass that which is familiar to me. I see things with a new perspective.  Will I one day be driving with my children in Sugar Land, and reminiscently point out an empty lot with nothing more than a few bricks on the ground to mark the spot, and say, "Look kids!"  That's where Daddy went to school -- of course, it's not there anymore."


Article by  David McElroy, son of Mark McElroy (Class of '55) .  David is also the great nephew of Chickasha Author Edith McElroy Welch.  He is the editor of his high school newspaper, the 'Ranger Review,' at William P. Clements High School in Sugar- Land, Texas.  This article is a reprint of an article he wrote about Chickasha, which was published in the 'Ranger Review.'  It was written in 1988 and it could have been yesterday.