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MY HOME TOWN



I have been somewhat sick for the last three weeks. While lying in my bed, I thought about my hometown. The places that I use to go when I ran away from the orphanage. The parks that I hung around, until all hours of the night. The various stores and even the bus stop benches that lined Park Street.

This morning, I got out of bed at about 4 o'clock. I bathed and gathered a few things together. I kissed the wife on her cheek and out the door I went. I put everything in the truck and off I headed to visit my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.

Jacksonville had changed a lot in the last 4o years. There are freeways now where two-lane streets use to be. Thousands upon thousands of automobiles go in every direction. People honk at each other and then giving each other the finger.

Things had changed so much that I had a hard time getting my bearings. At last, I pulled up to the corner of Park and Forest streets. I just sat there in a state of shock. The area was worse now than it was 40 years previous.

I pulled out onto Park Street, drove down to the corner and turned onto Price Street. There it was in front of me. The old machine shop where I had spent many an hours working and talking with Mr. Price. An old red brick building with the windows now boarded up. Every building along the street was now dead of life.

"How could things not change for the better?" I thought.

My heart sank deep inside my chest as I looked around the neighborhood. The restaurant on the far corner had been leveled to the ground and the bus stop benches had been hauled away. I placed my foot in the doorway of the machine shop and wondered if that might have been the exact spot where I stepped when I was a young boy.

I walked around the corner only to see a paint store where Donald Watts and his mother once lived in their run down old shack. She was a crippled old woman who made very little money at the Goodwill store, yet she shared her house and food with a young boy, who had nowhere to go.

"Thank you for caring about me, Mrs. Watts," I thought. "If I can ever find your son, I will make sure to help him should he ever need it."

How sad it made me to see my hometown with tons of scrap paper all blowing down the street. Beer cans and bottles from the night before strewn along the roadside gutters. The roads themselves in dire need of immediate repair.

I walked down Park Street toward a section known as ‘Five Points’ – a place that was once special and sacred, a true landmark of Jacksonville. This place is showered with odd colors and looks as if it belongs to a sideshow. Directly in front of me is the old theatre where the old, queer schoolteacher had taken me to see ‘The Longest Day’ starring John Wayne.

Next door to the theatre was a dress shop, which use to be a toy store, a store where I stole a toy gun called a ‘Fanner Fifty’ made by Mattel. That toy gun and holster was the only new thing I had ever owned when I was a little boy.

Across the street was the large, red brick church I had passed many, many times. I looked to the side of the building to see the spot where I once spent the night in a dumpster more than 40 years ago. Then I walked across the street to the park. Off in the distance I saw a large sandy spot in the grass where I had once given a crippled boy a ride on my back so he could feel the wind hit his face.

It saddens me to know that my hometown can spend millions upon millions of dollars to have a professional football team. All the while its ribs are rotting away and its face is sagging badly. I guess I must accept the fact that what was important yesterday, may not be important today. I guess what saddens me most is that the bus no longer stops at the corner of Forest and Park streets.



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