Notes from Candice Ransom

Street of Lost Steps

hopscotch web

Life is a child at play, moving pieces in a game; the kingdom belongs to the child.  Heraclitus

Saturday. A beautiful day to drive to a library event.  My GPS guided me to a highway I hadn’t been on in over 25 years, Rt. 28 between Manassas and Centreville.  Good thing I had GPS because I was lost on a road I’d traveled thousands of times growing up.

Abandoned children’s games in the little side street, the street of Lost Steps, with the chalk lines of hopscotch in the late afternoon sunlight and shadow.  Charles Simic

Dozens of traffic signals caused cars to crawl, even early on a Saturday morning.  I gawked at a world I didn’t know.  Check-cashing shacks, used car lots, ethnic restaurants, payday loans places, tattoo parlors, gun shops, auto parts stores, psychics, every inch plastered with tawdry sprawl.

Not that Rt. 28 had ever resembled Rodeo Drive, but blaring development made me grip the steering wheel as though I were hurtling through purgatory.  Only Kline’s Tasty Freeze, an old-fashioned walk-up dairy bar in the same location 70 years, served as my personal global positioning system, my landmark anchor.

In antiquity the game of hopscotch symbolized the labyrinth in which one kicked a small flat white stone—one’s soul—toward the exit, the vanishing point with its cloudless sky.  Charles Simic

As a kid, I traveled this stretch of road in all weather, every season, all times of day and night, in the backseat, the front seat, and, as a teenager, a few times in the driver’s seat.  Yet in my mind, I’m nine years old in the backseat of our fin-tailed gray Chevy Biscayne.  We wing toward Centreville on Lee Highway—the first view of the whale-shaped Blue Ridge Mountains—and turn left onto Rt. 28, heading to town.

It’s Friday evening in early summer, payday, and the road is the same purplish-blue as the mountains it runs parallel to.  Small white houses are dwarfed by “snowball” and forsythia bushes.  Forsythias, past their bloom, spray green fountains, but hydrangeas burst with rockets of blue and lavender.  Telephone poles advance and retreat, unfurling scalloped wires like holiday bunting.

Alone in the backseat, I am queen.  I own that throne of checked buttoned plush, rule both windows, possess the houses and mailboxes my coach passes like royal subjects.  The road is familiar and comforting in its sameness, yet any second something new could swim into my vision.  On the way to Manassas, I am watchful with anticipation.  We bump over the Bull Run bridge into the next county.  The river flows slow and brown between red clay banks.  My stepfather mentions a good fishing hole he used as a boy.

On the way home, I’m drowsy with content, clutching a new Little Lulu comic book, chewing one chocolate-covered caramel Pom-Pom after another from the five-cent box.  My mother and stepfather murmur in the front seat.  Rt. 28 is darker.  Telephone poles blur by, the hydrangea blossoms are bowed with dew.  The distant mountains slumber.

Saturday when I crossed the county line, I never even glimpsed the Bull Run River.  I didn’t see the mountains, only high-rises and vast shopping centers.  A labyrinth of overpasses confused the turn onto Lee Highway.

The German variation of hopscotch is called Himmel und Holle (Heaven and Hell). The player throws the stone in the first square (Earth), then hops to each square after kicking the stone ahead, avoiding the square of Hell, trying to reach the last square, Heaven.

Stopped at one of the ill-timed red lights, I sat, a solitary soul, in my truck.  So did the person in the car next to me.  And the person in the car in front.  We were all sitting on the same road at the same time.  It occurred to me that no one else noticed the changes along that road, no one else was upset by them.  It didn’t matter what was there before, only what was there now.  Moreover, we were all active in creating those changes, simply by idling a few minutes in that spot.

Heraclitus said we can’t step into the same river twice.  Every time I journeyed down Rt. 28 and back again, my presence altered the landscape.  And the landscape altered me.  The road was not the same, and neither was I.  But what nine-year-old wants to think about change unless she initiates it?

Solitude, my mother/tell me my life again.  O.V. de L. Milosz

Let me sweep aside the clutter of development.  Let me be nine and queen of the backseat on my purplish-blue road.  Let me tell my life again, the way I want to.

10 thoughts on “Street of Lost Steps”

  1. Candice,

    I hope you will someday compile all your posts into a memoir. These observations of life are nothing short of brilliant. And that’s not even the right word. You have a gift for words that leaves me stunned. And moved. I don’t always have time to post a reply, but know that your writing touches my heart, and I feel that someday this all needs to be in a book, in many people’s hands and hearts.


    • Oh, Ruth, you are so sweet. I honestly don’t know why I write these essays. Mostly I’m bothered by something and I try to figure it out by writing. Much of the time I’m trying to figure out the same thing, which makes me worried I’m repetitive. Like many people, I’m haunted by a past I can’t go back to, can’t fix, and can’t get answers to.

  2. I know that feeling. I go to the same place in Maine every year and think where did all these houses and businesses come from? Where did the general stores go? And the little parks where you could picnic on the side of the road? The souvenir shops that sold small birch bark canoes?
    LM Longley and Sons hardware is still in Business in Norway, Maine, but much else has changed.

    • We are supposed to adjust to change, but I’ve never been good at it. It’s hard enough to remember how old places used to look without them being so changed you can’t find a single familiar landmark. It makes us feel as if that place didn’t exist, and neither did we.

  3. As Ruth said, you do have a way of stringing the same words that I know into sentences that I could never create. Looking back at my own childhood does not have the details that you can bring to life from yours. Many times I think that I have just “floated in with the tide” of adulthood. Some of it is skimming over things I do not want to remember but I am startled at the memories that have simply slipped away. Visiting “old places” does help to remind me some times but often there is not enough left of the original place to bring back old thoughts. I do enjoy your “musings”– please, keep sorting out thought with words that you are willing to share with us.

    • Sheila: I suspect your childhood was a lot like my husband’s, good, and therefore “unremarkable.” Which isn’t true, of course. Everyone’s childhood made them who they are. My memories are slipping away, too, at an alarming rate. It’s a struggle to hold on to them as the years mount up. And since there are no “triggers” left, they will continue to melt away unless I make a concerted effort to remember. Maybe I stay in the past too much. Maybe. But it’s how I write for children, by tapping into the child I was.


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