Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Hockey Life: Machias, N.Y.

Rather than heading off to a rink today, like we normally would, we stuck close to the house. Instead of packing Colin's hockey bag, we packed clothes, book bags and a cooler. Starting tomorrow, we're on vacation. And rather than stick around Florida, we're heading back home.

Instead of flying, we're taking the scenic route -- two-plus days' worth -- up north. Not only will it save us close to a $1,000, but we'll get to see some of the country, even if it is from the highway. My hometown, little ole Machias, N.Y., with a population of about 2,500, is our first destination.

For the past few weeks, I've become more excited about returning home. For one, it'll be my first time back since my grandmother's memorial service. I'm also looking forward to the town's community day festivities, the outcome of the "You know you grew up ..." page I started for Machias on Facebook last August. Catching up with family, at our 70th annual reunion, and, hopefully, old friends is on the agenda, too.

More than anything else, though, it's about going back to my roots. More than 30 years after leaving, I still think of myself as a small-town kid. Very little in that town -- a single stoplight along Route 16 between Buffalo and Olean -- doesn't hold a memory, most better than others, that shaped my life:

Another reason for the trip, and perhaps this is the biggest, is to provide Colin with a glimpse of his old man's history:

~ When we head down Hazelmere Avenue, he'll learn the location of the Schurr's house, the neighborhood hangout where a bunch of us kids, long before the days of video games, played away many summer hours;

~ After showing him our old trailer, tucked in the weeds of the lot's northwest corner, losing a battle to time, he'll see what the phrase "humble beginnings" truly means;

~ He'll also get to see the cornfield, where I learned to skate on snow that turned to ice; the famed cemetery swamp, the first "rink" many of us ever skated on; and the tennis/basketball court at Broad Bay Circle; where posts for basketball backboards served as goals; and

~ Maybe we'll even sit on the Snayczuk's porch for a bit, the same spot where, as kids, we'd toss Knox Blox, a gelatin dessert my grandmother would make, at cars stopped at the light.Some stuck, some didn't. I always wondered, though, just how long those that did stick stayed on the cars.

From what I hear, only a few vestiges of my Machias remain. Boehmer's Transportation, down by Gary Herman Memorial Park, is the biggest company in town. Alfie, who once delivered our Olean Times-Herald newspaper, is still running the corner Mobil station. And Miss Joanie, the town's former librarian, is still one of the sweetest people I know.

I'm hoping, too, that there's still a newspaper box outside Lil's Delicatessen, where we'd suck down 16-ounce glass bottles of Pepsi that cost, if memory serves, a quarter or 35 cents..

Sadly, some of the mile markers of my youth, so to speak, are no longer open. The Machias Surplus, one of the three places where a kid could spend a buck, isn't open. Nor is Rauch's Delicatessen, the place where I earned my first dollar, stocking the candy shelves. As a commentary on life, I suppose, not everything survives.

Still, it'll be good to go back home. It has been far too long.

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