Last week, a terrible tragedy occurred in a small town in northern Saskatchewan: a woman and three of her small children were murdered by her estranged boyfriend, who then took a fourth child (his own child with the woman, an infant) to his parents' home in another town about an hour away, where he committed suicide.
My family & I lived in that town between 1966 and 1969 -- from the time I was 5 until I was 8, kindergarten through Grade 2. Kindergarten back then was private & optional; my mother paid for me to attend. Although the small school where I went for Grades 1 & 2 was directly across the street from where we lived (both houses where we lived, in fact), kindergarten was held in the basement of the Catholic church. (On days when there was a funeral being held in the church above us, the teacher would admonish us that we must be quiet, and we would talk in whispers and walk around on tiptoe all morning long.) It was a six-block walk from our house, across a highway, and most days, I walked there by myself (as did most of my classmates)(which is why I find it so bemusing when parents today agonize over letting their 10-year-olds walk much shorter distances to school solo).
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've been back since we moved away. The last time was the summer of 1976, when I was 15 and heading into high school (although my parents have returned at least two or three times since then). And yet I still think about it often, particularly with all the discussions lately about free-range kids. It was a much more innocent time, and my sister and I and our friends had so much freedom. We'd pack a picnic lunch and, with our best friend A., we'd head to a nearby park to play for a few hours. We'd play hide and seek in the bush that separated our house from the one next door, and explore the outbuildings on our rental property (a large piece of land with a huge garden, which was near the edge of town and was likely a farm 20 years earlier). On Saturdays, we'd get our allowance (originally 35 cents, then raised to 50 cents), which was enough to cover the cost of a matinee movie ticket and a small bag of popcorn. (We'd walk there, of course, by ourselves.) This is where my love of cheesy Beach Party and Elvis movies was born :) although we saw plenty of Disney too. I could still picture the streets and the houses and the buildings and the school so clearly.
With the town so much in the news this past week, memories came flooding back. And then I had an idea: I went onto Google Maps in Street View. I found the neighbourhood where we had lived almost immediately. The first house we lived in is still there (and it looks so tiny!!); the second one was torn down long ago and there are now at least three houses where our house and garden once stood. The school I attended is now a regional health office. I scrolled up & down the street, and then down the main street to the downtown area, as if I was walking there the same way I did when I was 7. My friend S's father's general store, where we'd sometimes stop on our way home after kindergarten, does not seem to exist any more -- but the movie theatre, incredibly, has survived, and is still there and still showing movies. The bank building where my father worked is gone, but the bank is still there, in new premises. The drug store seems to be in a different location than I remember, but it's still there under the same family name. The "civic centre" is still there (and looks incredibly tiny) but it's unclear whether the library where I got my first card is still housed in the building. The church with the prominent "Jesus Saves" sign is still there (and so, incredibly, is the sign -- I think it's actually new sign, but it still says "Jesus Saves" and is still visible from at least a block away).
Google Maps is really cool this way. I have looked up other towns and houses where I've lived on it, and the houses of distant friends. I've even looked up the street addresses of places in Scotland where my ancestors lived, more than 150 years ago, and while I don't have an exact address, I've zoomed up & down the streets of the small town in Ireland where my great-great grandfather was born.
Am I the only one? Do you ever use Google Maps to look up your old haunts, or places you've never been?