Everything's familiar but wearing an extra twenty years, like the visage that ponders my existence from the mirror. With my face I have little excuse, having inhabited and watched it adjust to the vicissitudes of existence every day of my life; I can be forgiven the sense of eerily halting familiarity when it comes to the town.
Everything's smaller, too. Even on my bike I would have sworn the pool was further away – in memory the journey there from school took donkey's. Now it's a matter of minutes. Time and growth do interesting things to our perceptions. The sporting ground is right next door, too, and the historical village.
Some phantoms, scraps of recall that I try to chase, remain elusive. Somewhere once there was a tree on the creek, the perfect overhang adorned with the necessary rope swing. I spent hours there with friends yet now I cannot tell what stretch of bank it might have been on or which house they lived in, nor the names of those boys. We might pass each other in the street, unrecognised and unremarked.
I recognise the names of streets as I ride. Landmarks bring memories to mind I've not recalled in years. My first school. The kindy I attended before that. The hardware store that Dad sent the city lad to to buy a left-handed screwdriver (and Mum sent the same poor bugger for stripey paint). The first cinema I ever encountered. This town ground into my young being deeper than I'd imagined, shaped me more than I'd realised. This is the place where I discovered libraries – I pass by two every time I go to the shops. This place, this town, is where I learned to love words.
The two libraries, so huge in my formation, are small in physicality but no less wondrous for it. The first belongs to the school – square and red, to my perception as a child it was hidden away in a back corner of the grounds, being on the far side from where I would always arrive on the bus and where my first classrooms were. An artefact I suppose, of the way we build our model of the world with ourselves as the centre of reference. In any slightly more objective framework, the library is at the front of the school, and the wee kids are tucked away. Protected, you could imagine, buffered from the world by all the years of learning before them.
I ventured rather more rapidly into that region of knowledge than perhaps some of my teachers were entirely comfortable with. Once someone had let me know that there was a landscape of the mind for me to explore – and even more, that I could do that as unfettered as I would roam the paddocks of the farm – I strode, wide of eye and brimming with fascination into it. And then I discovered the Town Library.
In the Town Library, there were sections that weren't in the School Library. That stuff becomes important when you run out of Enid Blyton books. Pro tip to all young readers: adults get funny expressions on their faces when they discover that the seven-year-old in their charge is reading the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe. They especially don't want to answer questions like, “What's the Inquisition?”
It's something to ponder, in this era of Internet and satellites, the incredible importance of the library as an idea. We're so awash in information and entertainment that it's hard to fathom what life was like without it.
These are the things I mull over as I rediscover not only the town, but also the child who grew here.