I grew up in Northern Cambria (formerly Barnesboro). Lived there until August 2001, moved to Alexandria, Virginia, only to return to Northern Cambria in October 2005.
My first home was 117 Ash Street. Yes, I am Ashley of Ash Street. There is a chance I was not named after the street we lived on. My father has told me that the street had a different name when I was born, but Dad has said many things. He told me he killed all the aliens when I could not sleep out of the fear aliens would abduct me. He says that he’s an alien.
He says that the Man in the Hat is real.
The Man in the Hat lived in my attic lived in the attic. For years I thought he was just a figment of my imagination, until I brought him up in conversation. We were in my grandmother’s kitchen, eating dinner.
Grandma was telling that she dreamt of the Little Man again. He was a dwarf with a pumpkin head.
“I had something like that,” I said, “The man in the hat.”
“Ashley, he was real,” said Dad.
I thought he was fucking with me. “What?” Laughing a little.
“A shadow. Had a sort of wide-brim hat and a trench coat.”
I had never told a soul about the Man in the Hat. “Yeah.”
Dad said me Sis and I saw him growing up. Sis talked about him. The dog would run from the attic door to the basement door, appearing to chase after something.
But not anymore.
My dad has many dogs these days.
“Does it happen anymore?” I asked.
“No. He’s gone” said my dad confidently, as if he were telling me the time.
A ghost doesn’t just go away, though.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, I had my mom send me some photos of places we went to while I was growing up. Each item will include historical information, a favorite memory, and a least favorite memory.
Springfield Mall, Springfield, VA, circa 2004
The Springfield Mall opened in 1973 and reopened as the Springfield Town Center in 2014.
Favorite Memory: leaving school the last day of third grade early to go see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was already a short day. Mom picked me and my sister up to go to the Springfield Mall AMC.
Worst Memory: it could have been when a singer came to the mall and Mom made a spectacle of herself, but it loses out to the last time I ever went to the Springfield Mall. By then most of the stores had closed down, making way for the Springfield Town Center. It was 2009. The mall was a desolate shell of what it was when I was a child. Worse than the Galleria in Johnstown.
Starlight Hotel, Northern Cambria, Pennsylvania present
The Starlight Hotel is owned by Ron Scalese and is right across the street from the house I grew up in at 117 Ash Street. Try the stromboli.
Favorite memory: my 12th birthday party was here. I had invited 12 or so girls from class. It was one of the few times in my life when I felt like a normal kid with a regular life. To think it was over 10 years ago. It feels like it happened longer ago.
Least favorite: getting off the bus in fifth grade to see my grandma and Aunt Molly waiting to take me to Grandma’s house at Cherry Ridge. They had sombre looks on their faces. They informed me that my dad’s live-in girlfriend had moved out. The blame for her leaving was put on me. She within a few months she reconciled with my father, moved back in, and married my father. It was not the last time she walked out on him or the last time I would be called the reason why.
A ghost doesn’t just go away.
Book checked out of the Bush Hill Library, circa 2004-2005
This is a thing. I realize that, but when I found this book in fourth grade, I just about shit myself. It looked so much like him. I felt like I was looking at him. The Man in the Hat was a shadow, but I thought, if I were able to see his features, this is him. Not because of the hat. It’s the face. That’s his face. I feel it. I know as certainly as when my blood sugar is high.
DC National Mall (Smithsonian in Particular)
The Smitsonian Museum of Natural History was founded in 1910. It sits in the heart of the National Mall: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560. It was one of the first Smithsonian buildings constructed exclusively to hold the national collections and research facilities
Favorite memory: My first solo trip to DC was my freshman year at UPJ. I was excited to go back to DC. I had not been there since I moved back to Northern Cambria from Alexandria. It was a hectic day though. DC as an adult on your own is a lot different from being their as an elementary schooler on a field trip, but when I saw the elephant in the Smithsonian, I felt like I was home
Worst memory: on the same day as the favorite memory, later on. I was on the phone with my sister, who still lives in Alexandria. She was worried about me walking around D.C. on my own. I get off the phone with her, feeling ballsy knowing that I had the guts to do something Sis wouldn’t dare to do. I thought, “I can take this big, old city on all by myself,” as I was walking to the Air and Space Museum. I caught sight of a tiny bridge over a road, then realized I walking on the road, without having looked both ways, I look behind and a car and a bus are heading for me. I do a weird shuffle back to the sidewalk, covering my face, saying “Sorry! Sorry!” I was humbled. Look both ways!
I look at these images and for answers. Too often it feels like my past was a dream. I look at them and know that there is something I am missing, not nostalgia missing, oblivious missing, something that eludes my perception. I stare at these pictures with the hope that one day I will be able to see it and I won’t feel such a need to reflect on my past anymore and concentrate on my future. The reason I talk about the Man in the Hat? I don’t know, but I can’t shirk the feeling he’s connected to this somehow. A ghost doesn’t just go away.