Tony Ahlers’ house is completely gone. Just a little open lot, a house on either side. I remember the kitchen, the bathroom with the old fashion tub, the huge living room and his messy bedroom. Now it’s gone. Kids walking by today on the uneven sidewalk that was such a pain to shovel may not even know that the old green house was once there.
The town seems so small now. By city standards New Lisbon is small, about 1,400 people reside there. When I was a kid walking to school on my child legs from my child vantage point it seemed big, the streets long and vast. Today as I drive threw I feel as though I could get out of my car and stand next to the houses at eye level with the roof tops.
My childhood home is still where it once was, with the addition of new siding on the house and garage. My dad built the garage when I was seven. Most of the wood came from the abandoned house in the lot next door to ours. Walkers Stainless was expanding and tore the old house down leaving the wood for whoever wanted to take it off the lot. I pulled nails from the boards and straightened them on the cement slab poured for the new garage, and my dad put the nails back into the boards to erect the frame of the garage. It is a very nice garage. We moved out of that house and into the country when I was in fifth grade, but the town still felt like it was mine, my home.
I went to kindergarten at New Lisbon Elementary and graduated fromNewLisbonHigh school. There were 45 kids in my graduating class and I shared a kindergarten room with most of them. A person can actually walk from the kindergarten to the high school without leaving the building. It wasn’t always connected, before I was around a new addition connected the elementary to the middle school, when I was in eighth grade they built a long hallway between the middle school and the high school, and added a new cafeteria/gym in the center.
Wrestling practice was in the cafeteria, for track we ran around town (literally) and as children we walked the streets. I have on little feet walked every street in that little town, to and from friend’s houses, to Kwik Trip to get candy after school. Who knows all the reasons a kid may have to walk down a street.
In second grade after a fresh snow we made giant snow balls on the grass play ground after school. I forgot my gloves that day (or maybe I just lost them I can’t remember) and started the twelve blocks home when my hands were getting to cold to play in the snow. At first I ran—my hands so cold they felt like they were on fire. I cut throughSaint Paul’s Catholic Church parking lot and Charlie Purz’s back yard. The main thing I remember is crying the whole last block I wasn’t running anymore at this point I didn’t even have my hands in my pockets I just walked and cried and felt sorry for myself. When I got home my dad ran my hands under lukewarm water.
I learned how to swim at the dam. Above the dam there was a small fenced in beach—swimming lessons were in the morning. A pretty older girl taught me how to dive off the board, ‘if she can do it I can do it.’ The diving board was above the dam and when jumped off it placed you about thirty feet from the spill way. A large raft was tethered about fifty feet from the beach. The older kids swam to the spill way and rode it down even though technically this wasn’t permitted. I think I was seven when a high school kid drowned in the spillway. After that the diving board, the raft and the rope of buoys were taken down and no one was allowed to swim there ever again.
We played in the streets when we snuck out at night. Brian: “Mom, I’m staying at Doug’s.” Brent: “I’m staying at Brian’s.” Jason, Elliot, myself, whoever could convince there parents they were staying somewhere else. Fourteen and fifteen years old we roamed the streets at night.
Cop tag consisted of finding the town cop after curfew, making sure he saw us and when he started chasing we started running. Across parking lots, through front yards out the back, between houses, over fences, hearts pumping, adrenaline flowing, everyone meets back up behind the football field house. Three people are required for street light Super Man. On a long straight street, wait for a car to come your direction from about five blocks down, run into the street, two people push the third person down and pretend to kick him. He is positioned in the path of the oncoming vehicle, but since the situation was set to be seen there isn’t much chance of getting hit. The car stops, the two standing kids run off. The driver has several choices; some shout out the window, some actually get out of the car. “Are you ok?” The driver says. “Yeah,” the person lying in the street says jumping up and running off, “because I’m Street Light Superman!” Once on a particularly dark street a green van stopped and laid on the horn, didn’t even open the window to yell. So I got up, brushed the dirt from myself and walked off the street, shaking my head at the person in the van and wagging my finger ashamedly. At the end of the night when we got tired or cold we would pry the door open on the bus behind the Baptist church, curl up and fall asleep on the bus seats.
When I turned sixteen, and got my drivers license, the nearby countryside became part of our play ground, and the playground of the world expanded from there. As a child New Lisbon was my home, it was all I really knew. I left home two weeks after graduation—my ten year class reunion is this summer.
Carlos Castaneda found that you can never really go home. Tony Ahlers can never really go home. Today driving through it almost didn’t feel like I was there. It felt like a dream or a stolen memory. I didn’t really see the trickle of snow flakes drifting down, I saw a spring day, the sweet warm smell of waking grass, the weight of my backpack bulging with my jacket stuffed inside, looking up to the clouds and the huge sky…walking down that street right over there.