I walk down the hill north of the house my parents have built in town. That in itself is different. This is not the farm where I grew up. This is the town I've always called home, but from a different perspective. The snotty little brother of my best friend in kindergarten built this house for my parents, built it as well as the house he built for himself across the street. Times change.
I start my run at the corner of the playground on which I learned to play football, soccer, kickball and a host of other recess sports. Back then it felt like several acres of playground. Now, fenced in and seen from six feet instead of three, it's a small patch of grass, the ancient swings and tire jungles long since replaced with safer, more brightly colored monkeybars and plastic slides. My brother teaches in the rooms we once occupied as students. Times change.
I jog past the high school wing, where they're working yet again on the entrance. The field on which I practiced in pads for hours is gone - turned 90 degrees and encircled by a modern rubberized track instead of the dirt path we called a track 20 years ago. Times change.
I turn right and trot past the house my grandparents built in 1990. But since they've both been gone for seven years now, and a stranger lives there, I don't even glance at it. I only remember that I ran past now that I'm recalling my route. Times change.
Left, past the Missouri Synod Lutheran church. Right, past the bare lot that used to be the trailer court. Some changes are good. Left, past the house of the guy who carves monuments, whose kids were in school with us. Past the north entrance to the cemetery, the houses where Renee and Kristen grew up. Do their parents still live there? I'm not sure. I think so, but no one is outside to confirm it. Right, to the gravel road at the edge of town and north toward the park. Past the nursing home, the street my friend Marcus lived on, the house where my brother's friend Cory lived. Into the park, where the old swimming pool was replaced a few years ago with something much nicer. Did the new pool always have that big waterslide? I can't remember. Have to ask. Times change.
Down the hill to the baseball fields. The t-ball field where I first learned to play organized baseball. To my right is the little league/softball field. Neither of them look anything like what I remember from my childhood: the Baseball Capital of Nebraska needs to improve these facilities all the time. They have wooden grandstands and decent grass instead of the crabgrass & aluminum bleachers of my youth. some change is good. Times change.
Left onto the new bike path that was put in with the levee a few years ago. A great change. A nice leisurely pace along the Logan around the north edge of town to the highway, then back. A dog barks just as I'm trying to post a picture to Foursquare and scares a little "HUH!" out of me. His owner and I laugh. I don't recognize him, but that's to be expected. Times change.
Back to the ballpark and past the crown jewel, Eaton Field. It looks as good as ever: the grass is immaculate, folks are out raking the infield, getting ready for the big Wooden Bat Midsummer Classic this weekend. The terraced bleachers, old movie theatre seats and the decks along the 1st and 3rd base lines look great. I would move back for this ballpark alone - I've rarely seen a better looking field anywhere below minor league ball. So many memories of happy hours shagging foul balls and, later, playing on the field. Thinking how I was a pedestrian player at best, but wishing sometimes I'd have kept playing - I'd have been on a state championship team. Oh, well. That was then. Times change.
Right onto Maple Street toward home. Past the house Alden & Marge, my grandpa's brother and wife, built when they moved into town. Past the little house my science teacher lived in. And the house my cousin Jon lived in when he was back home for a few years. All in more disrepair now than then. Sigh. Times change. Maybe they'll change for the better soon.
Back home and now I'm sweaty, tired but happy. Good to get out and be alone in this town I called home for so long, to see what's different and to know it's not home anymore. Yet I'll always be welcome here. So many don't know what it's like to walk the ground your great-great-grandparents called home, to sit in pews they occupied, to turn the earth they broke. Even when it's not home, the roots grow deep. Times change, but we change with the times. God goes with us all.