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Alan Riquelmy: Going home

Grass grows on the land where the house once stood.

There’s a paved stretch for runners and bicyclists in the old front yard. Then flat earth before a sudden drop, continuing until the ditch that serves as a conveyance to the river miles to the south.

A rusty jungle gym used to stand near the ditch, back when a fence separated the backyard from the water. That was before a flood led the city to invoke eminent domain — a spell inscribed in government documents, a magic phrase that led to a string of homes to disappear and this grassy plain to take its place.

I don’t know the kid who used to live here. It’s some neighborhood in my hometown, might as well be the other side of the planet from Nevada County.

But here I am, home for the holidays, standing in the spot where some kid used to ride his bike. I picture him huffing it to the local Circle K, some store clerk selling a 14 year old cigarettes. The brute. I bet they were Marlboro Reds. All the dumb kids smoked those at that age.

The site isn’t that far from the high school he attended. You can cut across the golf course, take a quarter-mile off your trip. The school’s gone now, too. Rebuilt miles to the south, and in its place a new library branch. The people who work here are young. They don’t remember the classrooms without windows, a Crete maze that took four years to escape.

Now it’s bright windows and tall ceilings. You can watch a conveyor belt carry returned books to their proper bin after dropping it in the slot. Kids marvel at the sight.

Maybe that kid from years ago does, too.

Things have changed. What an understatement. Different stores and more overpasses. When did traffic get this bad? Does everyone this age ask that?

There’s a path etched in memory still here, from that kid’s house to his old middle school. He’d ride his bike between the two when he forgot some book, or maybe just to get away for awhile.

You can trace the path these days in a rental car. A CD store near the school has been closed for years. There’s a Thai restaurant in its place.

Plenty remains the same, though. A long stretch of road from that kid’s middle school to a different, public school that sits by a main drag through town. Then through a tunnel that goes underneath the street — a marvel it’s still here. Up a hill, and through the old neighborhood until here I am, standing on the property of some kid whose name I forgot.

I bet he used to hop the back fence and look for fish in that ditch. They were there, and not that tough to catch. Years later, he’d hide his cigarettes in an alcove under a nearby bridge.

I thought, maybe, I’d wander toward the bridge and see if those smokes were still there. But, no, not even the kid would have done that.

I know it’s almost time to go. It’s cold, and the wind hits you at the perfectly wrong time.

There’s still people outside, despite the chill. A couple of children riding bikes, laughing as they speed past.

I wonder where they’re heading, and then I think:

Probably going home.

Alan Riquelmy is the editor of The Union. He can be reached at ariquelmy@theunion.com or at 530-477-4239


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