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They Paved Paradise...(Redux)

Last week, there was a grand opening of a big-box shoe store the next town over, where a bankrupt book store once stood.  You might expect someone with over 50 pairs of shoes, boots and sneakers to be clapping her hands and jumping up and down. Instead, I got tears in my eyes when I stood looking out to the highway at their new front door.

The store is on the same spot as the home I grew up in. The front door is dead-on with where the kitchen window use to be. 

My house sat on a small farm-a piece of land my grandparents moved to from Connecticut back in the 40's. A decade ago, The Press wrote an article about the Highway 35 corridor and the excitement new stores were generating. I wrote a response which was made into an editorial piece-technically, my first published article:

"They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot" sang Joni Mitchell.  In Eatontown, along with the parking lot, they're putting up a Toys-R-Us and a Borders Bookstore.  The Paradise they're paving is my old home.

In the past 15 years, it's been hard to look at that property as a paradise.  My house and that of my grandparents were torn down when developers bought them. Clothing collection containers litter the highway, an abandoned store lay shuttered and decaying.  But in recent weeks, progress has seen construction trucks clearing trees and a new Burger King has opened.  In a few months, parents will begin their holiday shopping in a new toy store, and readers will peruse the best sellers with a cup of cappuccino.

I wonder: When an aspiring gourmet chef looks at a Tuscany cookbook, will he know that on that property my grandfather farmed produce and tended fig trees? Lovingly wrapped in tar paper every fall to shield them from the harsh New Jersey winters, each tree produced a few sweet nuggets every summer until he, and then they died.

As grandparents select that special dollhouse for their grandchild, will they know that 50 years ago, a then newlywed couple built their own home next door to his parents and raised five children there?

Will that young father buying a toy lawnmower know that my brother mowed acres of grass in that spot right behind his favorite Grand-pop?  Could anyone buying a collectible Brier horse know that the family living on the adjacent property owned a real horse?

When a mother laments that her daughter would rather play with the box than the toy that was in it, could she possibly imagine that for a whole summer, my brothers, cousins and I did just that? A family enterprise to build a laundromat yielded a goldmine of washing machine boxes that produced a city.  With a box of crayons we built houses, stores, a school-even a jail.  We lived in our fantasy world until the boxes literally fell apart.

As shoppers block out those canned Christmas carols, can they ever imagine the group of high school seniors sitting around a roaring bonfire singing "My Cherie Amour" and other classics, waiting for the beginning of the school year?

And finally, as people race from store to store, lamenting the lack of time they have to get anything done, will anyone care that on that same spot, an old man-my grandfather-daily sat in the warm sun, with a small, tailless kitten on his lap that gave him immeasurable pleasure in  his old age?

Mitchell was right-"You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone".

I stood on that spot and remembered other things that are long gone:  The Muscular Dystrophy carnivals we held for Jerry's Kids that my aunt would buy the prizes for, and then pay to win them back. Tree houses, and forts and playing in the woods. The cute boys on my brothers' baseball teams rough-housing in the pool.  First Love riding his bike over every night to do homework and years later, Wingman picking me up for our first tennis date in his 67 Chevy. The summer my sister planted radishes, carrots and pot plants...

I'm going to Korea to visit son #1 and family in two weeks. ALONE. Fourteen hours and 6869 miles as the crow flies. Thirteen time zones away. It will be my granddaughter's first birthday and I've only spent one week with her since she was born. I keep singing "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" because I'll miss American things I took for granted and missed terribly when I was there for their wedding two years ago.  Things like raspberry preserves on toast and a thick juicy steak.  I'll have Reese's Peanut Butter cups packed for my son, limes for my daughter-in-law and bagels for her mother-all things they love and can't get in Korea. And I hope my other two sons will miss me-even if it's only for 10 days.

I'm making my lists of the things I have to do before I go.  Bills to be paid and mailed, house and birthday gifts to buy, clothes to try on to make sure they fit.

Oh, and I need a new pair of shoes for walking around in Korea. Time to go back home.

Shoe store locale
Looking out to Highway 35

Saint Francis stood about where Lego World is now


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