I’m writing this the evening before I leave Gardner. I’m not sure when or if I’ll be back. As I told my mother I can’t imagine never coming back but at the same time I don’t know of anything that will compel my return.
This was the town my parents were born in and where they spent their childhood. They were barely adults when they left but when I was growing up this was always where we went for vacation. A few years as a pre-teen I would come up for an entire month and when I lived in Boston in the early 1980s this was the weekend/holiday getaway. My grandparents are all gone and all my uncles and aunts here are in their 80s; I’m finding my cousins harder and harder to keep in touch with and I barely know their children. There are no more funerals I’ll feel I need to return for. Simply put I don’t know if this is my last visit here.
It’s an odd sensation: I’ve never seen this town do well economically but I’ve never seen it worse than it is now. It makes me sad because I know the stories of when this was a good place. Nobody I know got rich here but it was a town where a person could work hard and make a good living for himself, where factory wages were enough to own a house and put food on the table for your family. Now the factory that was really the heart of Gardner has been converted to elderly housing. The center of town has more abandoned storefronts than anything else and most of the businesses I remember are gone. There is a feeling of quiet desperation here.
Even though I’ve never lived here, Gardner feels like the place of my roots. I know so much about this place that I feel like I could move in a fit in right away. I used to think about what it would have been like to be a priest at Holy Rosary and it was a good feeling.
But change happens. I’m aware that few members of my family live their whole lives in one place. My paternal grandparents were born in New Brunswick and died in Gardner. My father was born in Gardner and lives in Virginia. I was born in Virginia and now live in San Diego. Each generation has done better than the one before (at least economically) and is more mobile. Perhaps the cost of this is watching the old places die.
Then again, no matter what, I’ll have good memories of Gardner. And if this is the last time I visit, I can take away the satisfaction of knowing that it has been a good place for me.