For nearly 30 years, my grandparents lived in the same apartment just off old Nyack Turnpike in Spring Valley, New York. They were among the first occupants to move in sometime in the early 1970s and my grandfather reluctantly moved out in 2000 after he’d had a triple bypass. That apartment and its surroundings are forever fixed in my mind as a happy part of my childhood. We’d visit my grandparents frequently when we lived in New Jersey and a little less frequently when we moved to Rhode Island. Somehow, Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” became a kind of anthem for their home.
I can recall as a youngster, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, standing out in the grassy yard in front of my grandparent’s apartment house. On countless days and evenings, me and my brother and our friends played in that yard tirelessly. But this song reminds me of the times that I would just stand out in the yard, and watch the cars drive by on Old Nyack Turnpike. It was a narrow, two-lane road, enclosed on both sides by tall trees. The sunlight would filter through the leaves and branches in just such a way. Back then, it wasn’t a busy road. A car here, a car there. On the nights we’d stay over at my grandparents, I slept in a corner bedroom and would listen for the sounds of cars on the road. I could practically tell the time from the frequency (or infrequency) with which I heard them rumble by.
There was a playground back behind the parklot and I can remember swinging on the swings there at an early age. I loved it there! There were woods in which we’d play tag. I once got the idea in my head to map out the trails in those woods and spent weeks in the summer play cartographer and coming up with a detailed and accurate map. I can recall playing whiffle ball in a small lot by the lower parking lot. After the sun set, the bats would come out and dive at the balls that were hit high into the air. Sometimes we’d hit pop flies just to watch the bats dive at the ball.
In later years, as I got older, I’d sit on the patio with my grandpa, surrounded by the wind chimes he’d made from steel pipes and we’d chat or read the paper, or just listen to the cars rumble by. I suppose in many ways, it was my equivalent of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. And any time I hear Billy Joel’s song, I’m instantly transported back there, a kind of time travel of the imagination, as rich in detail as if I actually stood on that damp grass. Was it really more than three decades ago? It boggles the mind!