I remember Harrison Street.
If you asked me, I could draw you a detailed map of it. The first feature on my drawing would be the little hill in front of our house. The hill would be small enough that a seven-year-old, peddling with all her might, could ride a bike up it. And there would be a river at the end of the street.
I could draw the houses of all the children that lived on that block: Lois and Keith’s two-story house; Janet and Jerry’s house, where I learned to twirl a baton; and Linda and Dale’s house, where the neighborhood kids gathered on the living room carpet to watch TV for the first time.
I could add old Mrs. Torrey’s house across the street and her fish pond and her two big trees filled with cherries we weren’t supposed to pick but did anyway. And the house of the old man whose dog, Puppily, decided he wanted to be our dog instead.
I haven’t seen Harrison Street in a very long time. We moved away a few days after my tenth birthday.
Years later, when my husband and I were in the area, I thought I’d show him where I used to live. I was sure I’d be able to find it. I had a clear mental map of the street, and I knew the surrounding area well. Every school day from first through fourth grades I walked to school and back. I made my way up Harrison Street, around the corner, and down street lined with hawthorn trees. Then I passed the feed-and-seed store and a friendly horse in a small nearby field, continued across the railroad tracks, and walked down the main street to the school.
It should have been a cinch to find Harrison Street. But it wasn’t.
Looking at Google Maps now, I see the problem. Our old house is still there, hidden under some leafy trees. But the little hill and my friends’ houses and Mrs. Torrey’s fish pond are all gone, replaced by a freeway.
So why am I thinking now about Harrison Street?
The other day I was searching for a hotel to use in the novel I’m working on. Early scenes in the novel take place in Manila in 1989, and I wanted my characters to have dinner in a hotel restaurant on Manila’s Roxas Boulevard. So I googled the hotel I had in mind. No luck. In the twenty-seven years since we lived in Manila, the hotel must have changed hands. Maybe it changed hands more than once.
Next I tried a Google satellite map, but Manila had changed so much since 1989 that I had a hard time recognizing anything. I suspect population growth had a lot to do with all the changes. So I looked up Manila’s population and found that in 1990, the population of Metro Manila was 7,973000. Now it’s estimated to be 13,322,000. Quite a change.
So what’s the lesson of Harrison Street and the hotel on Roxas Boulevard? Keep your memories, but don’t use them to navigate around a place you haven’t seen in years. Use your cell phone or Garmin instead.
Interesting related fact: Metro Manila is the world’s most densely populated city. It has 111,002 people per square mile (42,857 people/square meter). For comparison, Mumbai has only 23,000/square meter.
I knew Manila was crowded, but still, this is a surprise. Now I live in a city with a population density of 4,437 people/square mile.
Happy Mothers’ Day to all you mothers out there.