I thought maybe I was being stalked by an online troll. I got a message through Newspapers.com, where I do a lot of genealogy research. “I live in your old house in Valparaiso and noticed you.” The writer’s own account featured a 1938 photo of the house where I grew up, a snapshot my dad took before I was born, and it’s among my own personal family archive. How the heck did this person get it? I looked back in very old email files, searching his name, and bingo. In 2016 he’d sent an email saying they’d bought the house, learned who had originally owned it, and wanted to make contact. I had written back, and the way he got this photo is that I sent it to him in 2016. Sometimes computers remember better than humans.
We’ve been writing back and forth and exchanging photos. That whole area was my realm when I was a little kid, finding more acceptance and kindness and security in the rough fields and woods than I did in the house alone with a deeply unhappy woman who got more than she bargained for when she adopted a newborn. My dad had a long commute and I had to fend for myself from 6 AM to 6 PM, and I am eternally grateful that I was allowed to ramble. I still know every sandhill and rough fence stile and wetlands pond and appreciated enormously that this new owner has been roaming my old territory with his own kids. When he wanted to know how it was 75 years ago, I could tell him.
In my pre-school years I gradually expanded my rambling perimeter. Looking at Google Maps now I see that I eventually walked more than a mile through undeveloped scrub fields and woods to the home of parental friends, a route normally three times that far along the roads. I think they must have been startled to see me show up. That quadrant, a mile to a side, was my own personal fiefdom. It was raw and green and real, and I loved it.
That was then. This is now. Sand mining is big money now, and that’s what’s taken over what was my personal back yard. The photo has a little red heart in the upper right corner. That was my house. My most-often path was on a diagonal southwest to the railroad track, and now that’s a gaping hole. The people who still live in that area have pushed back as hard as they could over this last decade, but the money clout is implacable.
I’m glad I now have an ally in my old heart’s land. I hope that in the years to come I may be able to go visit and walk the woods with him.