how did it come to this..?

I'm sitting here drinking pink wine that came out of a box and listening to new age music. Somebody shoot me now...
Anyway, I took the long way home tonight, opting for the slower, more scenic drive on Route 537 from Cherry Hill to Freehold and it got me to thinking about just where my New Jersey has gone. I think what spawned that thought was just how rural that particular way has remained. When I was growing up in New Jersey so long ago, just after the Lenni Lenape left, having run out of dinosaurs to hunt, it was still a wild place away from the larger towns and cities, especially Monmouth County. I recall riding around with my parents on a Sunday in the summer, which was our form of air conditioning, traveling on bluestone or sand and oil roads, through the woods of the midlands, up the bluffs of the Highlands, through the potato and horse farms of Freehold, stopping at a farmer's home to buy eggs and return the carton that held the eggs from the week before. Manalapan High School sits on that farm now, just down the road from Stately Sad Old Goth Manor. Old Tennent Church was always a treat to see, my father relating the tales of how it was used as a hospital during the Battle of Monmouth in 1779, how the pews were stained with the blood of patriots, of the musket balls lodged in the walls. It was quite a specter of a building to me, big and tall and white, surrounded by ancient trees and the tumble down tombstones with dates that could only be imagined... I wonder how many times I passed my current home and didn't even notice it? We would drive from Tennent into Freehold, which, in my eyes was as busy and quaint as I imagined old London might be; the old courthouse, the ornate facades on the stores and, right there in the center of town, right in the middle of the intersection of Main Street and South Street, a fountain, with a trough for watering horses; it's long gone now.
Then, north on up to Route 520, through the wilds of Marlboro and Holmdel, across the old steel girder bridge just before Route 34, barely wide enough for two cars to pass, up twisty and dark Red Hill Road and on to home. Sometimes we would ride down Route 36, which was only two lanes, with the occasional center passing lane, the "suicide lane" as my parents called it, heading east toward the wide Atlantic. Through Port Monmouth, Leonardo, Atlantic Highlands, the Highlands, over the drawbridge and south into Seabright, where huge stones, so big they could only have been laid there by giants, kept the cold ocean at bay. Sometimes we would cut back west into Red Bank, that mystical Christmas town of my youth, where, once Thanksgiving dinner had been digested for a few days, we would venture on a chilly night to see the Christmas lights that hung over the streets, to wonder at the store windows, all dressed for the holiday and my personal Mecca, Prown's Hardware Store, the front window of which was transformed into a wonderland of Lionel trains, running round and round, through tunnels carved into paper mache mountains, the tops of which were frosted with thick painted snow, over bridges that spanned blue mirror lakes, on which painted metal figures posed in the perpetual skating dance of winter. Cardboard buildings, draped with batts of cotton and glittering mica flakes. Ah, that was something. And, if it wasn't Red Bank, it might be Matawan or Keyport or Asbury Park, before it took to wearing it's Ode to Dresden cloak...
Boy, that went on a bit, didn't it? I get a bit nostalgic for those days. Maybe it was the perspective of a kid, but my New Jersey was a series of little vignettes, one act plays. Little views that were special. Places that seemed older than time. An ancient time. Big trees, dark woods, vast farms, creeks and ponds, all part of a wonderful life that now, sadly, has been transformed into a whirlwind, a maelstrom of rushing automobiles, cookie cutter housing developments, intruding parking lot lights that ruin the night sky and a curious race of people who seem to have come from the Land of Rude. Dirt roads, dappled by the summer sun through the leaves of the towering trees are now flattened and paved; woods to wander through are now shopping centers; even the old towns are now just quaint shopping areas, a shell of forced nostalgia, even they long for the days that cannot be regained. No more walking down the street to Carey's store, where one of the Carey sisters would get cans of vegetables down from the top shelf with one of those pole like grabber things and give you twenty five cents worth of loose candy for your precious hard earned nickel. No more milkman rattling up the driveway with his basket of bottles, bricks of butter and fresh made cottage cheese. No more chasing the mosquito truck down the street on my Huffy, although, for the life of me, I can't imagine how I can still be sitting here now after inhaling all that kerosene smoke...
All the little sights, all the sidelong glances, all those special little pictures of such a beautiful place have been replaced by progress, thrust into my face, like some offensive pie hurled by a cruel clown. And yet, it's still my New Jersey. I love it and I hate it at the same time. I want to flee from it, but want it to hold me tight forever. It will never be the same, but will always be the same, as long as I take the time to look, maybe look a little harder, but it's there, all the same.
Next time I'll tell you about the smells of my New Jersey. Hey, no jokes, ok?
Gotta run, I want to go look at the moon and the last of the summer's fireflies.
Be well.

pearls before swine...


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