I drive up and down Princeton’s Main Street several times a week. I know that street like the back of my hand. I’ve been cruising Main Street for many years. I grew up here, and the street — like every Main Street in every small town, is somewhat sacred.
I have to believe it’s the same in Spring Valley, Sheffield, Tonica, Granville ... and everywhere in between. The main drag through a town or village is a landmark to those who have hung their hats there.
Driving up and down Main Street — well, in a way, it’s a history lesson from years gone by. If I look in the rear view mirror, I see a street from yesteryear that speaks of fond memories, simple times, family and friends from the past. It is a street that evokes many feelings, and one that often causes my heart to skip a beat or two.
I could chug up and down a 1960s Main Street with you, where we spent Friday night parked in front of the bank to watch people walk by. It was the place to be, and everybody came to Main Street on a Friday night. It was where you learned about what was happening with your friends, neighbors. It was a place filled with people standing on the sidewalks and talking about everything from their crops, to the church supper, to anything out of the ordinary.
My 1970s Main Street consisted of what we called “cruising the gut,” where we’d spend entire Friday and Saturday evenings driving somebody’s parents’ car up and down Main Street, after we’d each chipped in a $1 bill for some gas. Later, it was my old, yellow Pinto that cruised the gut. It was where you fell in love, sang along to the eight-track tape in your car, and plotted and planned with your friends. It was the place where you learned every word to Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Main Street was the catalyst for future dreams of growing up and youthful memories of where you’d been. You knew every store, every storekeeper, every inch of that business district. It was your home away from home.
For me, my Main Street of the 1980s and early ‘90s was filled with bittersweet moments. Living out of state, I’d come back to visit, and the first thing I’d do was take a few trips on my well-worn Main Street path. I’d see the changes, and I’d remember what was. While I was always quick to applaud the progress, I couldn’t help but mourn the losses. My Main Street was evolving, and even though I wasn’t there to see the daily changes, my heart yearned to keep close the picture I had painted of the Main Street that lived in my heart.
In the late ‘90s, I returned to the area, and while I felt like a stranger in my own land, Main Street served as a close friend, a confidant, if you will. While many of the people and the names had changed, Main Street still existed — different, yet somehow intrinsically the same. While I don’t mind admitting I longed for what was, the familiarity of Main Street welcomed me home with open arms.
Today, I try to see my Main Street with fresh eyes, yet I am steeped in several decades of memories — all which tend to run together despite my attempts to keep them separate. As an editor of the hometown newspaper, I try to look at Main Street from an economic development standpoint, however, I know that loving a place means watching it change. I see some storefronts empty of the history from my past yet filled with the promise of optimistic new endeavors. I see the storefronts that have survived the test of time, and my heart smiles.
This is my Main Street, my town — and regardless of where you live, it is yours too. May the reflection you see in your rear view mirror remain in your heart, and may you embrace the future of that precious street with promise.
BCR Editor Terri Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bcrnews.tsimon.