Remembering When…

Nostalgia can be a bitch. I’ll just get that out there right now. Memories, especially those from childhood, can play with our minds.

Take Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia for example. Wow, what a segue, right? But it makes sense, trust me.

When I was a kid, my family visited Harper’s Ferry a few times. We liked it so much, we even took extended family members when they visited us.

Harper’s Ferry, for those who don’t know, is where John Brown had his fort and it was a key site in an 1859 abolitionist raid. It’s a historic park and while I haven’t been there recently to know if they still do this or not, back in the day, people could stroll through the town, visit decorated “shops” and businesses and homes that hearkened back to the town’s heyday, and watch reenactments of blacksmiths in historic garb fashioning something awesome, soap-makers/story-tellers creating soap in the same way they would in the 1800’s all while discussing the history of soap and the town, and people roasting peanuts.

My favorite was the freshly roasted peanuts. I remember burning my fingers on them because I had no patience whatsoever and wanted to eat them straight away.  You could have your picture taken in old-fashioned dress, with the picture itself made to look antique. There was even a nifty wax museum about John Brown.

In addition, and this part is spectacular, it’s home to The Point, a place where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet, and while standing in West Virginia, you can see – quite clearly – Maryland and Virginia.

View of Harper’s Ferry (photo credit: Harper’s Ferry National Park) 

When I was a kid, there was a picnic area down by the river that ran through the town. My mother always brought fried chicken (and sandwiches, I think) and snacks and we’d go down there to have our lunch. While wading out into the water one time – I was young, that’s important to know – I walked into an unexpected dip in the riverbed and ended up in water up to my neck. Fun and games. Made my family laugh though as I spent the rest of the afternoon soaking wet.  Nowadays, that part is blocked off. I can’t imagine why. But you can’t get to the river from the public portion of the town anymore, and I found that disappointing.

Too many years ago, I took a trip to Harper’s Ferry with my kids. In my excited state of nostalgia, I reminisced and told them about some of my favorite memories there and all the cool things they were about to experience. I probably built it up more than I should have, but then again, in my mind, it couldn’t be built up enough… if that makes sense.

When we made it to the town proper, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t nearly as “grand” as I had remembered. It seemed “smaller” if that makes sense. Maybe that’s because I was “bigger.” It was certainly not the bustling hub of activity it had once been.  Whether due to budget cuts or lack of volunteers, there were no reenactors dressed in historical garb, there were no blacksmiths or storytellers.  It was too quiet. Too still.  History had come alive in Harper’s Ferry when I was a kid, and when I visited with my own children, it was a ghost town.

All I knew was that the view in my mind’s eye was at odds with my current surroundings. And I realized my mistake almost immediately… I had waited too long to bring my kids. This was confirmed by my children’s reaction – an utter lack of enthusiasm in the place I had talked up so much.

I started to ask myself a few of the more complex questions. Have times really changed that much over the years? Was I only in such awe of Harper’s Ferry as a child because we were simply more easily impressed then?

Oh, it’s easy to blame video games and a generation that favors a computer screen to The Point, but let’s be clear, society helped speed them on that path. Our society panders to the Gods of Technology and then has the audacity to complain when our kids are overly involved with electronics.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this except to say once again, nostalgia is a bitch. But what do we do about that?

Maybe another visit to Harper’s Ferry is in order. It’s high time I gather my kids back home for a road trip. They can even drive so I can be the one to sit back and enjoy the ride. Maybe now the view in my mind’s eye will win out. Or better yet, maybe there will be a new view altogether.