Full Circle – An Unknown Future Realized

Full Circle - An Unknown Future Realized

A teenager sits on a hilltop and gazes across a valley to ponder his future.

In that future he’s an old man looking back at the same hilltop and remembers.

unknown future

unknown future

This article was originally published to the When Life Goes Full Circle blog on June 27, 2020

The Back Story unknown future

People who’ve aged into mid-life often find themselves looking back to younger days. Perhaps to a favorite gathering place from the old home town, or to a quiet spot they once used for solitude to ponder an unknown future.

I remember my favorite hangouts as a kid growing up in Odessa, Missouri. It’s a small town about 40 miles east of Kansas City. There were only about 3,000 people there in the 1980s. In 2020, that number was about 5,000. On the surface, not much has changed there in the past 40 years. But I have distinct memories of the place from days gone by, and the little town is quite different.

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There are places that no longer exist, like Papa’s Pizza, where the delicious aroma of hot sandwiches and pizzas baking in the oven welcomed the senses at the front door. The buzz of conversation and laughter filled the room as families and groups of friends gathered. The jukebox played the favorite bands of the time, like AC/DC, REO Speedwagon, Queen, and the Eagles. And the ever-present sound of the arcade drifted through the noise as Pac-man, Pole Position, and Centipedes called out for more quarters.

The Ice Cream Factory is another fond memory. Situated right across the street from the Junior High School, this was an automatic draw for young people before and after school. It was the social center for teens and pre-teens. If they weren’t enjoying a tasty soft-serve, shake, or sundae, then they came for the jukebox, arcade, and to mingle with friends. Much like Papa’s Pizza, rock and roll filled the air as arcade devices bleeped all manner of attractive noise. Foosball, pinball, Asteroids, Space Invaders, and so many more consumed a steady diet of teenager coins.

In summer time it was always the swimming pool. It’s not same pool there now as in my memory, but the smell of the chlorine, the screams and laughter of children splashing and playing, and the familiar clunk of the diving board as another swimmer launched high into the air for a cannonball splash remains a clear memory.

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Those were always my best days in Odessa, especially after a hot day of mowing lawns for $5 or bucking hay bales in the field for a nickel a piece. Relaxing in the cool water and enjoying a concession stand hot dog, bag of Funyuns, and a Dr. Pepper was ample reward for a good day’s work. Plus a pocket full of fresh coins for Papa’s and the Ice Cream Factory!

As a High School kid I often found myself alone at the top of a prominent hilltop outside of town. I recall the name of that place as “Autograph Hill“, because on the southern slope that faced town there was a small clearing where people used to paint rocks a bright color and arrange them into a message for all to see, such as “REMEMBER JD”. JD was a young person tragically killed in a car accident. The whole town saw his name on Autograph Hill as we said our goodbyes.

Others called it “Church Hill”, because perched on top of the hill was a small country church with a wide-open parking area. The church is still there, but has grown into a large modern structure that covers much of the open space that was once there. In the 1980s, it was a perfect spot to drive up and watch the colorful Missouri sunsets.

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I used to do that a lot. As I gazed westward watching the Interstate-70 traffic flow east and west I pondered an unknown future. I imagined for myself a life I never had growing up in Odessa. I set goals in my mind, like achieving a certain salary level by age 30, having a wife and two kids, and living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado someday. “Go West Young Man” was a sub-conscience echo that filled my 17-year old heart and mind as I wondered what the future had in store.

The Full Circle Moment unknown future

Now in my fifties, I’ve come far since I sat atop Autograph Hill and wondered what would be. I achieved most of what I had imagined for myself, only in very different ways than I ever expected. After raising two kids and building a 30-plus year Information Technology career, I’ve settled into an employment arrangement that allows me to work remotely. The wonders of the Internet, VPN technology, and online collaboration tools like Teams, Skype, and WebEx provide capabilities that were unimagined 40 years ago.

As an empty-nester with only an occasional need to travel to an office location, I decided in 2017 to embark on a new lifestyle; the RV Life. So I bought a new truck and trailer, moved my household goods into a storage unit, and hit the road. I’ve seen and experienced more places in just a few years than I could probably ever achieve in a decade of summer vacations.

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I coordinate my travels to come back through the Kansas City area once or twice a year. My wife and I still have many friends and family in the area, so it’s easy to justify a long stop in the Spring or Fall to catch-up with loved ones.

The year of 2020 was a bit different. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the affect it had on travelers, my summer plans were canceled. Rather than re-planning my entire schedule I decided to stay in Kansas City for the summer. I was beginning to think even that wouldn’t happen because many campgrounds were struggling to re-open due to COVID-19 restrictions, or they were already fully-booked with essential workers. I waited for weeks at my home base in Nashville until finally one opened-up. What are the odds it would be an RV park in the old home town?

A few days after settling-in at the Owl Creek RV Park in Odessa, I was doing my usual morning routine of remotely connecting to the secure company network and conducting my daily work.

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Like clockwork, my little Yorkie-Poo named Gypsy strolled into the office to signal her usual response to go outside.

So I grabbed the leash and stepped outside to take Gypsy for a walk.

I wandered around the property and something seemed vaguely familiar about it, like I had been there before.

As I strode up a hill to the main entrance I turned and noticed an old mobile home that was no longer lived in, but I recognized it. The road running alongside triggered the memory. I was standing where I had once been over 40 years ago as a kid when the people who lived there hosted a Halloween party. Memories rushed in as I recalled bobbing for apples for the first time, running a sack race, and the smell of pumpkins and cinnamon in the air. What a great memory!

I walked a bit further towards the entrance and noticed something else. Off in the distance was Autograph Hill. Barely a quarter-mile down the road stood the old church overlooking the same valley I had once gazed upon as a teenager.

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The Meaning unknown future

I never imagined as a 17-year old kid that my 50-something self would be looking back up at that same spot someday. Back then, despite the fond memories, most days were not so good for me. I had many heartaches in those days, and as a young person I wanted to get as far away from Odessa as I could. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to return at that age.

I didn’t immediately realize the full circle affect of that moment. At first, it was merely an amusing connection to the past. But as I pondered it more deeply I began to understand it as one of those finishing threads in a complex life tapestry. An interesting continuity formed in my mind, connecting a young man’s dreams of an unknown future to an older man’s rear view of all he had experienced.

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That’s what makes it profound for me. It makes me realize how important it is for young people to dream and imagine, while at the same time, how important it is for an older person to appreciate the path they have traveled in pursuit of the dream.

Full Circle - An Unknown Future Realized

There are so many twists and turns on the road of life, and they almost never go the way you think they will.

That’s the human experience. The emphasis is on the journey, not the destination.

When traveling the road of life, stop, look around, and take it all in. You might find yourself standing there again one day.

Jeremiah 29:11-13

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author avatar
Steve Coryell