by Jim Ethridge
As I travel through the large and small cities of this country, I notice most of them have a sign saying "Visit Historic Downtown Section" or some other type of message to lead you to what is believed to be points of interest or beauty. Being a history buff of sorts, I often follow these signs, and quite honestly, I am often disappointed as their appeal is more local than universal.
My hometown, which I still live only about forty miles away, had in my school days a population of about 5,000; now some fifty years later its population is more than 75,000 and growing. I admire the foresight and energy shown by civic leaders that allowed the city to keep up with services, school, and all that go with such rapid growth.
They did, however, seem to have overlooked the obligation to erect a historic sign. Oh yes, they have a nice little museum that I suppose 10 percent of the population knows is there, and probably 1 percent has visited it. This is surprising due to the fact that Route 66, "The Mother Road," made up its Main Street. There was a little twenty-four-hour café that weary travelers and truckers stopped to nourish themselves, and a fancy restaurant frequented by high rollers from all over the U.S.A. as they traveled from Chicago to California and many cities in between. Both were just two blocks apart, and both gone, as my hometown was caught up in rapid growth concerns, not thinking of historical preservation.
There is one white frame building that was a camera shop when I was in school, that has been preserved as a historical sight, not because it was a camera shop in the 1950's but because it was an old one room school house much before that. I have not been inside the old school since it has become "Historical," and every time I drive by I think of Sanders Camera Shop, where in the late '50's I bought my first Ansco 35 mm camera. I recorded on beautiful color slides: high school sporting events, fishing trips, friends, and fun times with that camera. In the '60's, I photographed an exciting and crazy road trip by five young men to the wild and sinful city of New Orleans. I also captured a special girl who became my wife and a mother, and recorded our children as they grew up.
Yes, to me this is truly a historical building, but not because it was once a school that no one is left that remembers it, but because it was a camera shop that holds many memories.
I suspect, with sadness in my heart, that in not too many years the nostalgia of Route 66 will also be lost. When there are none of us left that traveled the old Road on our many adventures, pausing at roadside stands often operated by healthy, smiling, young, farm girls for apple or cherry cider, or the small filling stations for an RC Cola, then the Road may be gone and forgotten forever.
It doesn't bother me that my hometown seems not to have concentrated on its history but on its future. When I have time to kill, I sometimes drive around sections of my hometown. Many, of course, are new to my eyes, and many have changed much over the years, but you can still see, if you look hard and remember where they were, nestled between the new and remodeled homes some of the buildings that are very much the same as they were sixty years ago.
As I ease down Thatcher Street, I see the home where my grandmother lived in 1949. The same house was home to my best friend in high school ten years later. As I go down E. 7th Street, the house remains that was home to my first girlfriend. Found memories float back to a time when she and several of her girl friends would invite my friends and me over after school and try to teach us how to dance. "Love me Tender," "Young Love," and "A White Sports Coat," still ring in my ears as I pass the house if I listen carefully. At teaching me to dance their success was very limited, but at least it enabled me to get on the floor, hold someone close, and sway to the music at our school hops.
I like to drive by a small house on Walnut Street. It was my home for twenty years and was in the family for about forty years. If I pause long enough I can still smell the smoke from cap guns as my brother and I played cops and robbers or cowboys and indians.
If I look hard enough, I can see my sister, brother, and several neighborhood kids on each side of the house playing Annie Over. It always irked me when my sister out ran me.
Yes, there are historical buildings in my hometown, not of interest to a tourist, and in a few more years no longer of interest to me. But each generation has its own historical buildings, for I believe with all my heart, the people are the history and the places we lived, loved, grew up, and died in, make that history.
This look into the past could probably have been any of a thousand small towns. It just happens to be my historic hometown Edmond, Oklahoma.