The city where I was born is inaccessible to me now, a complete mystery, a mosaic. I no longer know how anything connects, how to get from Point A to Point B. I recognize pieces and I know some places, but the way the city fits together was wiped from my mind long ago.
My hotel was opposite Lenox Square, where my grandfather walked every day. My grandfather had three heart attacks before I was born and he made the recommended lifestyle changes with a disciplined zeal I’ve yet to see in the rest of us. (Although my sister comes close in one aspect of her life.) No smoking. No shellfish. And he walked daily at a very rapid pace.
The Lenox of my youth was memorable for the decor of its parking lot — towering stands with arrays of balls, like abacuses on their sides. The colors were supposed to help you remember where you parked. My grandfather’s rule was that you always tried to get a space near the front door — people come and go all the time, after all.
Today’s Atlanta is literally four times larger than the place I knew as a child, coming back to visit my two sets of grandparents. Last night, a car came to pick me up to take me to a library. The journey was eight miles and the driver figured we would make it in 30 minutes, easy. It took an hour and 10, putting me just 10 minutes late for the talk.
And there in the audience were my Uncle Speer and Aunt Judy, my cousin Amelia (that’s my mother’s first cousin) and my parents’ oldest friends, Doodle and Janet, along with their daughter Janny and her partner, Sue. It was a little hard to get through a talk in front of people who remember me in diapers, or capering down the beach in Fernadina, or, well, being a cranky brat. I told one story just because I knew it would make Doodle laugh, in response to a question about whether I had been influenced by any television shows: “As a child I watched ‘Perry Mason’ with my grandfather, who always found it satisfying as he never remembered who did it, no matter how many times he saw it. Now I watch ‘Law & Order’ with my father, and he experiences that show in the same way.”
I meant to write about lost cities, lost places. Where is the Colonnade, where my grandparents ate lunch almost every day? Where are the landmarks I remember from the drive between the two sets of grandparents — the rib joint, Arthur Treacher’s fish and chips, a beautiful house on a steeply banked curve?
But I find myself remembering my grandfather’s funeral, more than 20 years ago. The other walkers came, the men who could keep my grandfather’s 15-minute mile pace through Lenox Square.
And although I had never met them before that day, they knew everything, simply everything, about me.
So, Lost Cities. Or Invisible Cities, if you will. I know Keith will get that reference.