The Auburn today vs. the Auburn I have known | Whale’s Tales

I am strolling hand in hand with my mother through Auburn City Park.

I cannot be more than two, but to this day, I can see and feel that morning. What it was to work a set of swings with all a little kid could give the job, wrapped in pillars of sunlight defused through the greenery of trees that seemed then so impossibly high.

As life moves along, that day splashes other memories with its happy patina.

Now it’s a day in early spring, and my friend and neighbor, Tracy, and I are on our bicycles, zipping along a trail that slaps our faces with wet leaves, as the fragrance of the nearby Green River rises in our faces.

Now it’s a blistering summer day, and I’m with the kids of the good old neighborhood, my brothers, the Coggers, the Youngs, and Fleck, doing our best with plastic bats to knock the stuffing out of whiffle balls, which, of course, have none, in the covered area at the old North Auburn Elementary School. Later that same day, my sister, Diane, and I make our way to the Green River with our dad, who has just wrapped up his work at Boeing and needs, he says, the refreshment only that river can give him. Afterwards, we’re on our way to the old A&W for some frosty root beers.

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas bottled the sentiments evoked by the past when he wrote about his 30th birthday in “Poem in October” of:

“…a child’s forgotten mornings

When he walked with his mother through the parables of sunlight

And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice-told fields of infancy.”

Let’s call it harmony.

No, I am not naive. I understand that the mind often paints our greenest, happiest days with a kindly but deceptive tint. Because, of course, the Auburn that people of my generation grew up in during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s was not all Skittles and beer. There were problems. There have always been problems. Auburn was not Sunnybrook Farm, and none of us were Rebeccas of it.

In the end, we must all move on from Neil Young’s Sugar Mountain with its “barkers and the colored balloons.”

The swings at the park, now Veterans Memorial Park, are more than 40 years gone. The North Auburn Elementary I attended, now Dick Scobee Elementary, was razed a few years ago and a new one stands in its place. And most of the trails we rode along as kids live only in our minds and our dreams as pathways that have long since hidden their luster under houses, apartment buildings and businesses.

That’s progress.

How distant and different the old “long since” actually is from today first hit me years ago, when I read in a local paper about some kid who had gotten his fun pouncing repeatedly from a running jump onto the bloodied — and bloodying — face of a defenseless, homeless man whom he had just beaten to the ground. The jerk even gloried in his callous feat.

That happened just down the road and around the corner from 16th Street Northeast where I’d grown up.

No, can’t be, I told myself. In Auburn? My Auburn?

Then, only last week, another blow to the solar plexus, as described by staff reporter Henry Stewart-Wood in the Auburn Reporter:

“During a funeral at Mountainview Cemetery, a person put an explosive device in the car of one of the funeral attendees,” according to the Auburn Police Department. The bomb detonated, destroying the victim’s car and trees surrounding with an intense fire.

“The cost of the damage is not yet known and police haven’t identified a motive for this bombing,” a spokesperson for the Auburn Police Department said.

City employees followed the suspect’s vehicle as it fled the cemetery, and a passenger in the suspect vehicle started shooting at the city employees in pursuit. Luckily no one was injured by the bomb or the shooting, according to an Auburn police spokesperson.”

A car bombing? During a funeral service at the cemetery? In my Auburn?

I don’t mean to paint the entire city in a negative light. We have a lot going on here that’s bloody wonderful, including a fantastic museum, Hops and Crops, warm people, a community center, etc.

But it’s hard to take things in sometimes. I can’t find a slot for anything like the sorts of incidents I noted above with the Auburn I’ve known. I find myself asking the same question over and over — did these sort of things happen when we were kids?

Yes, I know, at some place, far off, they did. But now, as Bruce Springsteen has sung, “Troubled times [have] come to my home town.” And it shakes me to my core.

Robert Whale can be reached at