Not that Abbey Road, my Abbey Road. Zebra stripes no, but beetles, yes.
The Abbey Road is a private road belonging to the Norbertine Abbey not far from my parents’ house. The Abbey buildings stand near the top of the road along one of the main thoroughfares through town. At the bottom of Abbey road is the second main thoroughfare through town. At the top of the road there is a grocery store and a Little Caesar’s across the street. At the bottom you’ll find a gas station and a Dairy Queen.
But in between, the in between, is too good. It’s acres of cornfields and thickets of wild brush and a small pond near where the St. Norbert’s College football stadium used to stand just below one of the cornfields–across the road from the gas station and the Dairy Queen.
Between the cornfields and the pavement of Abbey Road, gravel gives way to soft lawns of mowed grass. Pines, willows and oak trees grow here, so old they may predate the abbey, so tall they actually change the way the corn grows in their shadows.
Even in a small town like this, maybe especially in a small town like this, every kid needs an oasis, a place to escape to. The Abbey road was mine.
On those days when I felt especially misunderstood, I’d ride my bike up and down the road, listening to the wind moving though the willows, watching the sandpipers playing in the gravel along the road.
When I needed to think, I’d take a well-worn foot-path to the small pond that stood just beyond the glimpse of the main thoroughfare at the bottom of Abby Road. Some days I’d find fathers and sons fishing on the deck or other kids like myself, escaping adult supervision; but often enough it was empty enough to feel like mine.
In the land between the road and the cornfields, I built forts in the woods and ran cross country workouts in the summer time. I once got terrifyingly lost in the cornfields trying to take a shortcut home with a friend. I once hopped the fence around the football stadium late at night to make out with a high school boyfriend on the 10-yard line.
But mostly, I went to the Abbey Road alone, to lay in the tall grasses in the summer and shiver under the pine trees in winter. To ride my bike a thousand miles in the space of less than one.
Along the abbey road, my senses heighten. I notice the sounds of the waving corn and the whispering willow limbs. I crush pine cones under foot and the crunch feels childishly satisfying. I notice when the breeze changes direction and the way the telephone poles running through the Northern cornfield perfectly frame the sun as it rises in the sky.
I can’t go to Abbey Road without coming home to write something. Just being in that space makes whole paragraphs of prose come to mind, fully formed. The Norbertine’s would likely call it divine inspiration. Maybe, but I’m inclined to thank the trees too.
I still go back to the Abbey Road whenever we make the long trip back to Wisconsin.
I married an amazing man who happens to come from elsewhere. He has no hometown. He has a place he was born and a list of countries in which he lived while growing up.
As one of the few kids in my elementary school classes who’d ever lived in another state, whose grandparents didn’t live just up the road, whose family name didn’t go back for generations in the area, I used to sometimes feel like I was from elsewhere too.
Home never felt like home until I ran far enough, for long enough, to turn around and finally feel adrift enough in where I was to see more clearly from where I came.
We’re back for a quick visit to Wisconsin right now and I tried to reach the small pond along the abbey road a few days ago. I looked for the narrow foot path in the brush behind the willow tree, along the edge of one of the corn fields, but I couldn’t find it. Everything is overgrown and waist-high. There’s no path there anymore. There’s no way back to my spot on the water–unless I want to visit the bird feed and garden shop that stands in front of the pond on the main-thorough fare now.
I came home after my walk to my mom and my kids playing in the yard.
“The path to the Abbey pond is gone now” I tell my mom as casually as I can manage, “there’s no sign it ever existed at all.”
“Oh yea,” she says, “I guess when they tore the old stadium down, people stopped going through there.”
“They tore down the stadium? When did that happen?” I ask.
“Oh gosh, years ago” she says.
An old colleague of mine performed a poem recently (you can watch it here) that sums up how I feel about home better than I ever could.
It’s all true.
My husband and I won’t be throwing up our hands and moving to small town Wisconsin anytime soon, no matter how thrilling it may be to my kids that fire trucks here sometimes drive around and pass out fire hats and stickers to little children working hard in the front yard.
But I am perhaps predictably craving a little patch of grass and dirt of our own, somewhere our kids can say they are from, maybe with a pond near enough to visit when they finally grow into angsty teenagers themselves. A place where they can go to feel alone in a place so familiar that loneliness is delicious and home is always only a bike ride away.