One sunny afternoon a few weeks ago, my dad showed up for an unexpected visit. Because it was a lovely day, we did what most father/daughter/granddaughter trios would do:
We drove to the Polish part of town to hit up the deli for some smoked sausage and pierogi.
Afterwards, we took an impromptu cruise around the neighborhood– the very same one where he grew up. He showed me where the drugstore had once stood, his best friend’s house, the building where my mother went to a party in 1969 and noticed a jacket she thought was cool. The guy wearing it had borrowed it from his friend– my dad. He told me about the long-gone rug factory his parents used to bring him to that was also home to a bizarrely spectacular water fall garden and duck pond.
The grand finale of the tour was the apartment building he grew up in. It sits on the corner of a quiet, well-groomed, bungalow-lined street. They lived in the basement for a few years, then moved up to the top floor. It looked nothing like I imagined. And I wondered– why was I just imagining it all these years? How had I never been there?
I have no memory of seeing any of it before. I forgot to ask if he’d ever taken me when I was little. But for whatever reason, he brought me and my baby there that day. I couldn’t help but imagine the world 33 years from now and bringing my grown-up girl on a tour of my yesteryear. My elementary school where they filmed Uncle Buck, my bike path, the mall where I had my very first job at Gap Kids, where I would hang up itty-bitty motorcycle jackets and wonder if I would ever be a mom myself while Human League’s “Fascination” played over and over and over and over, except when “Raspberry Beret” was on.
It was one of those moments where it really hits you: your parents are just people who just happened to have kids. When you look at old pictures of them with poofy hair or bad glasses, there’s always this look in their eye that says, “I am completely unaware of what my future holds, or if I will ever have a kid who scrapes up the side of my Ford Explorer and then tries to cover it up with a concoction of flour and baking soda, which almost passes for snow-removal salt debris.” I doubt my dad ever in a million years thought he’d have the life he has now. I could tell it made him a little sad that so much in the old neighborhood had changed. Who wouldn’t miss a full-on waterfall rock garden? But as I pointed out, if things hadn’t moved on and changed, there would be no me or no grandbaby.
So call your parents. Ask them some things about their lives. Their real lives, before they had you. Because one day, when you’re a parent, you will want your kids to know how cool you were. You know, before you came along.
UPDATE: Beef says this post makes me sound older than I am. The year I worked at Gap Kids was 1994. The songs on the mix that summer were older. He thought you should know that.