Dear Michael and Caroline,
The Nabisco factory over on Route 208, where, on certain days, if the wind blew just right, you could smell the Oreos and other cookies being made.
The Town Hall with the police department where your father once took you because some yahoos driving by your house in a pickup truck as you shot hoops in the driveway saw fit to fire a slingshot with paper clips at you, leaving an imprint on your bicep.
The hill back behind the houses where on snowy winter days you took your Flexible Flyer and went sleigh-riding.
The stickball field, the basketball courts, the running track at the high school.
The houses where all the kids you knew lived, pals, girlfriends, one-night stands like Hannah Butensky, a rabbi’s daughter who kissed you so memorably, with such religious fervor, as you made out on that drunken New Year’s Eve.
The spot outside the junior high school where the Italian students, the so-called hoods or boppers, hung out, smoking cigarettes, leather jacket collars turned up, the object of your naïve envy.
The hill near the railroad tracks and the ambulance corps headquarters where you tried your first cigarette, coughing the whole time, unable to inhale with any degree of success.
You lived there, in that town, in that house, for 20 years (you actually spent two of those at college in Boston). You lived there at a time, a formative time, when everything that happened truly registered, left an impression, felt so very freighted with meaning and import. Everything mattered, every last detail. Everything seemed momentous, everything left a mark.
That town represented practically your whole world, that’s how you saw it then.
You went to school there.
You delivered newspapers there.
You went around shoveling snow for neighbors there.
You pretty much stayed put, except for the occasional foray to visit relatives in Manhattan or Long Island or East and West Orange.
You had the firehouse right across the street and your elementary school only a block away and the stores in town within a 10-minute walk.
Every house was a state unto itself, every block a nation, every neighborhood a continent.
But all that changed.
Now you go back to your hometown and, across all the decades, more than 30 years now, it’s all so different.
Everything that once seemed so far from everything else – the walk from your house into town – now seems to near.
Everything that felt so large – the Plaza Building, Memorial Pool, Fair Lawn High School – now feels so much smaller.
You recognize how skewed was your sense of size and proximity. You had no context then. All you understood was what lay right outside your door. Now you have context coming out of your ears.
That’s how you saw Fair Lawn then, as the universe itself, and this is how you see it now, as a small, simple town. Never in a million years would you have picked anywhere else to grow up.