Monday, September 16, 2013

Mortality in a Manhole Cover

Go to Google on the Internet and type in “14th St. and Bixby Ave, Bemidji, Minn.,” and then click on the Google map that comes up. Zoom in and select the street level option and then head west, clicking three times until the view comes to an alley off of 14th Street.

Tilt the “camera” down on the road and see the manhole cover.

It's where I found a youthful memory last week and it's part of the look back that we do, I assume, as we try and recapture moments of our childhood.

Weird, I know. But when you pass middle age and realize your own mortality, you seek comfort wherever you can.

When I was a youngster, I lived near the corner of 14th St. and Bixby. Two houses to the north, to be exact. My friend lived in that house on the northwest corner and his backyard served as the neighborhood football field.

But one day when we were bored of throwing the pigskin around, we stood in the street, gaping at that manhole cover. ( I realize on Google maps, one of the manhole covers is not photographed properly; it's that one I'm talking about). So, I got my wooden hockey stick and we pried open the lid and peered inside. I don't recall if we actually climbed into the sewer. I assume we didn't. We may have gone down the ladder a step or two, but I even doubt that. Opening a manhole cover was enough of a thrill.

The impact of seeing it was profound. It's still there, on the same street that I, half a century ago, saw as a challenge and an adventure.

I continued my quest on the Google map thing, “driving” down the streets I once trekked to find my friends' homes. I saw my best friend's house on 15th and Calihan Ave. and zoomed in on his backyard. It's where we played whiffle ball each summer day. The yard appeared very small, yet as a child it seemed to me as big as any baseball stadium. Hit the plastic ball over the hedges for a home run. A ball into the window wells on his house was a ground rule double.

I also toured the grade school I attended, the college where my father taught and the baseball fields where I tried to play Little League.

I ended with a feeling of melancholy and a longing to go back there, even though it's been a long time since I saw Bemidji. Maybe it was my way of trying to hold on to some shard of childhood; the refusal to accept the fact that I'm all grown up and have been so for a long time.

But I still clung on a piece of that childhood the other day. I left where I work and saw a crew prying back a manhole cover on the street by my building. I knew they were installing a communication line; the workers had AT&T shirts on and they were dragging a long spool behind them of the cable. But still, I had to maintain that childhood I seem to hang on to.

“Whatcha doing down there?” I asked one of the workers who had just climbed into the sewer. “Bustin' up a big turd?”

He looked at me oddly and I laughed. People my age aren't supposed to say “turd” in public. I did.

Some call it immaturity. I call it nostalgia.

So, I look at manhole covers on the internet and have childhood memories and recall more innocent times and keep a grasp on who I once was. I still have that wooden hockey stick, too, in case I get an urge to pry open the manhole cover in the street where I live now.


  1. Kenneth, nothing wrong with taking a nostalgic look back at your childhood. I do it too. I sometimes drive by my old houses I lived in as a boy here in Memphis, stare at the yards where I played so many football and baseball games as a youth, and long for those days just once more. Or I'll look at my old bedroom windows and remember looking out those windows on a summer night many years ago when life was simpler.

  2. I will have to agree it is good remembering our childhood days. I have been back in the same small city in which I grew up. Occasionally I have driven down the street on which I have lived my first few years before my father transferred to another province. I have recalled the many times my friends, my brother and I played hockey on our driveway. Down the road at our local high school we played in the field before the new extension was built. They were good days. There were no manholes to catch my attention