Past Prime: A Story of Growing Old & Going Home During the Pandemic

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

They say that places are never like you remember them. I’ve been on the road for twelve hours to see my dad for the first time since the pandemic started and I’m having difficulty recognizing my surroundings.

While this certainly isn’t my first trip back to Michigan, it feels different this time. The places I hold fond memories of don’t stir the same feelings of connection within me. As I pass by Ann Arbor, it dawns on me that it’s been over 20 years since I spent a semester “studying” there. Further up the road, the gas stations and convenience stores that I used to frequent look old and disheveled. Their faded, forgotten storefronts seem foreign to me.

As I get closer to home, I pass the old shopping mall that looks like a shadow of its former self. It’s no secret that Flint has been hit hard with economic issues, job losses, and a water crisis in recent years. Still, it’s concerning to see the mall parking lot nearly empty. It’s Christmastime, after all. The signs that once advertised places like Foot Locker, JCPenney’s, and The Finish Line now sit mostly empty, the white paint used to cover the names of past tenants fading with time.

The movie theater along I-69 that was such a big part of my childhood years is no longer there; the bulldozers and backhoes did their work on it over a decade ago. The drive-in further up the road hasn’t shown a flick in nearly as long and looks like it’s been for sale for more than a little while.

Its huge rusting signs signal to me that I’m nearing home and I begin to feel the anxiety build.

Snowy scene showing tattered, rusty signs for the Miracle Twin Drive-In theater and a for sale sign.
The tattered, rusty signs for the Miracle Twin Drive-In. Photo by Andy Miller.

As I turn on the exit for M-15, I sit a little straighter in my seat, convinced that I’m going to see old friends, teachers, and acquaintances. Maybe I’ll even run into an old coworker from the store where I bagged groceries in high school. I glance at every car at the stoplight, expecting a smile, wave, and shocked looks at my unexpected presence. They don’t come. The same happens at the next light. And the next. By the time I pull up to my dad’s place, I’ve slumped a little lower in the seat, coming to grips with my new-found irrelevance.

Warm Embrace

The feelings of insignificance quickly give way to nervous anticipation as I hop out of the truck and approach the front door. I ring the bell and my dad comes out to greet his unannounced visitor. When he sees it’s me, he swings open the door and we wrap each other in a warm hug. His emotions are on high and his voice cracks with the tinge of tears.

“I’ve missed you a lot,” he tells me as we pull apart. I can see the mist in his eyes.

If this were to mark the the end of my trip, it would have been worth it entirely.

I tell him I’ve missed him, too, and get right to the point. “You wanna go to the cabin for a couple days?”