Here in eastern Connecticut, because we balance between two of the East Coast's biggest cities, our urban, suburban and rural identities blend like fog off the Sound dissolves into sunshine. I was born here, moved away, returned and have stayed for almost 46 years. I have watched changes take place that are gradual, jarring and in some instances just plain unexplainable.
As a kid I remember traveling from New Jersey to Connecticut before Interstate 95 was completed. In my 20s, because of my job, I drove from Montville to Hartford before Route 11 was even considered. Every day I sped up Route 85 to Colchester and hopped on Route 2 all the way to capital city to work at the biggest department store in the state, G. Fox & Co. What an awesome store that was.
The New London Shopping Center, when it was an indoor mall with The Outlet Co. at one end and Two Guys at the other, was a big deal for us along the shoreline. I watched the Gold Star Memorial Bridge being built and my kids watched as the Baldwin Bridge over the Connecticut River was constructed.
I remember Mohegan Park before the dam broke. The zoo, the upper lake with the huge metal slide, and men washing and polishing their cars in the shade under the trees by the lower lake. It was a time when this little girl, at 10, could follow the path through the woods alone and swim all day at the lake with a dollar for a hot dog, ice cream and a soda, and walk safely back to my Nana's house on Mohegan Park Road. I'd dress up her little Chihuahua, Chi Chi, and push him in a carriage down Seventh Street to Mr. Big's in Greenville or Franklin's 5 and 10 in Norwich center.
We'd go to the drive-in on Route 32 or the one in Waterford near where Stop & Shop is now. When I was older my cousin and I often went surfing at East Beach and Misquamicut in Westerly. Always Misquamicut for real waves. Are the bumper cars still there?
Salem was just four corners with a gas station and a mom and pop convenience store. Flanders was another four corners enclave with a huge old house where the big drug store is now and the Ford garage where another big drug store is now. It was exciting when New London became pedestrian and then a relief when it was changed back. Mystic without Olde Mistick Village is a memory as is the Thames River and the woods further north, without casinos.
Sometimes the changes are gradual and sometimes they are jarring, leaving downtowns and families scarred by big interests. What went on in New London when families had to leave and what remains is sad, very, very sad. Sometimes progress is a four letter word.
One of my greatest joys was seeing the Crystal Mall completed. It gave me a place to stroller my newborn when it was cold outside. I'd walk the mall like it was a town center, feed my baby a bottle and then head home for naps for both of us. Now, that baby, almost 30, and I and her baby, do the same. Our surroundings may change but we really don't. We do the same exact thing only generations later. Enough said.