West Hartford, Conn. | Travel | Smithsonian

West Hartford, Conn.

A trip back in time

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Lights On To . . .

I turned over in bed, closed my eyes and entered the dream world. Time travel to West Hartford, CT. where I was a young girl. Porch lights, fireflies and street lamps bathe the homeward sidewalk in an amber glow.

Lights on to . . . textured pathways of adventure. Bicycles with balloon tires and one speed were our wings into the compass corners of our town. Saturday mornings, our ten and twelve year old legs pumped and our bike wheels bumped over the dirt ruts in the cow path to the dairy barn.

"Hurray, we're on time!" Charlie shouted. Shirr -- whoosh, shirr -- whoosh, sang the rhythmic suction of the milking machines. After helping Mr. Leonard turn the Holsteins out to pasture, we spent the morning in search of pollywogs, turtles and butterflies. In the shade of a weathered oak tree, our favorite picnic lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, fruit and Mom’s blue ribbon chocolate chip cookies . . . relieved our hunger. Our talk dispelled our occasional discomfort about St. Mary’s old folk’s home.

Charlie put his banana peel in the brown paper bag. “Remember when the dairy farmer told us about the free movie at the old folks home?”

“But he didn’t tell us about the spooky old people.”

He shuddered. “Boy was I scared when I saw all those people dressed in black and white. I was sure they were ghosts.”

“It was scary because we didn’t know about nuns then.”

“I was ready to go home.”

“I know. Good thing Sister Julie held out a plate of chocolate chip cookies for you.”

Charlie rubbed his stomach. “She saved the day!”

“I liked her soft low voice. Her smile was like Grandma Walters . . . you know . . . the I love you one.”

Charlie nodded. “Guess that’s why we keep going there. Old folks like smiles too . . . yes they do.”

Lengthening shadows signaled the onset of afternoon. We panted as we propelled our bikes up the steep gravel hill to St. Mary's and the free movie. In the recreation room, we showed our schoolwork to a group of nuns while they finished their snack. When it was my turn, Charlie munched on cookies.

The whir of the movie projector announced it was movie time. We sat on chocolate brown, cold metal chairs stationed in stern rows. Black and white action filled the movie screen. Charlie and I alternately cheered for the horse-mounted cowboys and Indians. At times, other black and white forms were in motion around us. The nun’s life was portrayed in three dimensions of black dresses and stiff white headpieces. In this room, peeling beige paint exposed dingy walls. We were exposed to OLD. OLD permeated my nostrils like unstirred attic air scented with stale smells of stacked books, dust piles and clothing . . . all forgotten. People can be ignored too, then tucked away when their usefulness is over. Like Sister Mary Ellen sitting near the doorway. After the movie, she rose stiff in arms and legs. Her arthritic body stayed bent when she and the chair separated. She couldn’t raise her head to say goodbye. I leaned down to look into her eyes. They shined like the two brown buttons in mother’s button jar . . . my favorites. Sister Mary Ellen took hold of my hand. It shook slowly with hers. “Bless you child for remembering us. You and your brother bring our sunshine every Saturday.”

“We won’t forget you Sister or your friends.” I said.

Shimmering ribbons to the dream world quivered and dissolved with the fading night. My eyes blinked in adjustment to the twilight. I made a mental note to drop by the nursing home and read another chapter to Sister Mary Ellen Lights on to . . . my hometown memories.

The End

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