The Loop Newspaper - Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

By Bill Mead
Columnist Emeritus 

Leave good memories alone

The Overall Picture


Today, We Honor The Overall Man Classic Bill Mead

Reprinted with permission

When we have good memories of a certain time and place, it's usually best to leave them alone. If you go back to relive them you're more apt to lose them.

I left my hometown of the cornbelt during World War II, went into the Navy, then afterward settled in California. Because I didn't go back to my hometown for the next few decades, memories of the place stayed pure in my mind, never changing from the distant summer day in 1944 when I headed down the gravel road toward a new life.

Over the succeeding years I often thought about the town where I grew up, mentally cruising up one street and down the other. As time passed I focused on the good old days and forgot the bad ones.

Last year I went back. The town hadn't changed a lot but it made me see that I had changed a great deal during my journey from a teenager to an old man.

In my youth, the town had been the center of my universe. Until I left for good, the biggest city I had seen was Omaha. Then I was introduced to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a dozen other metropolitan centers. Soon I began thinking of places like Santa Barbara as small towns. It's not surprising that when I went back to my old home, with a population of 2,300, it seemed to have shriveled. Streets were narrower than I remembered, houses were smaller and the long trek to school turned out to be six short blocks.

Even more disconcerting was my discovery that four decades of changes in the American lifestyle have seeped into my hometown. Folks there now go to out-of-town shopping centers, leaving the once-thriving business district a ghost of what I remember. The surrounding rural population has been slashed as farms have become larger. No longer are the sidewalks packed with farmers on Saturday nights.

Worst of all, going back has made me aware that I no longer belong there. A few of my once-young friends are still there, unrecognizable to me in their maturity, but nearly all the grownups I remember as a kid have died off. The town where I used to know all the people and half the dogs is now filled with strangers.

That's the cruelest part of going back anywhere after too long. It makes us realize that it really isn't the place that calls you. It's the people who shared our lives there. Everything else-streets, houses, stores- is backdrop.

As melancholy as my return proved to me, I'm glad I did it. It has made me cherish my memories even more. That's the only place where my old memories still exist.

If you don't know Bill: Bill Mead was the longtime publisher of the Tehachapi News, along with Betty Mead, his wife and partner of more than 50 years. Known for his keen wit, which could be gentle or scathing or somewhere in between but was often self-deprecatory, Bill's writing won him a wide following among News readers. His column "The Overall Picture" ran in the News for more than 25 years, and in 1999 he published a collection of his columns in a volume entitled The Napa Valley Outhouse War. His book is currently available for sale at the Tehachapi Museum for $10.

Bill had a remarkable mind and because of his intelligence, humor and appearance he was regarded by many as Tehachapi's Mark Twain. As Betty used to remind him, he was "older than the oldest Model A Ford" and his wealth of life experiences and rural upbringing allowed him to bring a thoroughly American, 20th century perspective to his reflections and musings on the everyday. Bill passed away in 2008 but his writing lives on.


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