I grew up in Westminster, Colorado, (a small town a few miles north of Denver) which at the time had a population of about 400, or so it seemed to me. We lived on the outskirts of town across from a big vacant field where we could find Indian arrowheads and stone hand axes, along with an occasional field mouse or pheasant’s nest. A few blocks west was the intersection of 72nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard, at the time the center of town. Standing at that corner you could see most of the center of town. If you looked south there was a little café on one corner with a barber shop next door. Looking north there was the little old red brick schoolhouse that served as the elementary school, with a (then) new high school at the next corner.
There was a little row of shops across the street and the town’s administration buildings and small library were just down the street to the west. The town grew a little along with my brothers and me, but many things stayed the same. You could still go to the French bakery in the little row of shops and get a small loaf of fragrant, fresh bread for a dime. We did our grocery shopping at the Piggly Wiggly store and sometimes treat ourselves to a malt or shake at the soda counter in the drug store. The hardware store always had that really odd part you needed to repair whatever might need fixed. Oh, and the Dry Goods Store up the road had two wonderful parade saddles that never were sold, but always were an object of worship to a horse-loving little girl.
The town was run by a mayor and town council, and we knew them all. The town marshal and one deputy were the police department. The fire and ambulance services were run by volunteers, and my parents were members of the ambulance corps. There were no judges; justice was meted out by a tiny lady everyone called “Mother Stewart,” who dispensed justice with a wisdom I have always envied. Everyone loved her, even when she decided against them, and no one could conceive of anyone else as the town’s Justice of the Peace.
Eventually the town grew sufficiently large to need a new, larger town hall. The little red brick school became the core of a bigger, new campus and eventually served as the administration building for the school district. A shopping center grew in the vacant field where we used to hunt arrowheads. New houses were built, expanding outward around the core of the town. But the core remained the same.
We moved away from Westminster the year I entered junior high school. I didn’t understand why at the time, but my parents said it was because the town was becoming too big and they wanted to move away into the country. At first we still went back to Westminster for our shopping and to see old friends, but gradually we weaned ourselves away and re-centered our lives around our new home.
Westminster hired a new town manager, whose avowed goal was to turn the town into a major city. Two new schools were built to accommodate a growing population. The new town hall was replaced by a big new administrative center located several miles away. I no longer recognized the names of the mayor and the members of the city council. I heard about the changes, but I never saw them. So, to me, the town remained the same as I remembered it.
Finally, many years after I left my little town, I went back. It was still called Westminster, but now it was a foreign place. I found the intersection at 72nd and Lowell, but the only thing I recognized was the little red brick school. It was as if I had gone to some other town instead. Westminster had ceased to exist, replaced by a strange new neighborhood that was only a backwater to the new, larger city that the City Manager had promised to build. I left, then, and have never gone back. My town doesn’t exist any more, and I have no business there.
We’ve all heard that you can’t go home again, and now I understand why. Towns change and grew, or change and die, but either way, given enough time, they change. But your memory doesn’t change. The town I left doesn’t exist any more except in my memory. There is no longer any “home” to go home to.