It was a cool day in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. The air was crisp, and the leaves were falling off the trees, scattering the cobblestone streets and covering the ground in a painting of fiery reds and oranges and yellows. The breeze blowing off the Cape Fear River was warm as it brushed against the side of my cheek and ran through my hair. People were out and about today, enjoying the nice weather and the warmth the sun brought. Tour groups and families with children passed by my friend, Maria, and me as we walked to meet my parents, who came to visit for the weekend.
They were in an old antique store on Front Street when they called me and told us to walk down to meet them. We turned a corner and went up a block to put us on Front. I saw my dad about a block away, standing on the corner and leaning against an old telephone pole. My mom followed a few seconds later when she came out of the store. We said our hellos and kept walking along the main street downtown.
“Do you like it down here, Mom?” I asked her.
“It’s so beautiful here, and quaint. The town’s real small, just like home,” she said.
“What about you, Dad?”
He didn’t answer me, mainly because he wasn’t listening. He was in awe, looking at all the old buildings and the stores and the bars all situated on the strip.
“I can’t get over it down here,” he finally said. “This looks just like how Pacific Ave. used to be back when we were young. This is Wildwood.”
We kept walking, and I looked around me. Little shops dotted both sides of the street, some old souvenir and antique stores that seemed as if they had been there for years, some more newer and modern boutiques that had been built in more recent times. Eateries were scattered in between the stores, as well as bars and pubs, some old and some new. And they all had their doors open, welcoming in the public.
Everything was located right next to each other, which made it convenient for the crowds. Rocking chairs and table and chair sets were placed outside on the sidewalk in front of every establishment, and people sat and conversed while they ate. Some sat quietly reading out front of various coffee shops, enjoying the calming serenity, while others exchanged bellowing chuckles over pint glasses of draft beer in more rowdy atmospheres. Women walked in and out of shops, while men took seats at bars to watch the sports games, as children ran by screaming and laughing and playing tag with each other.
We walked along a little further in between the groups of locals and visitors—you could tell who was who, but all seemed to fit together quite nicely. I looked at my mom, and she was now in awe too, looking around.
“What are you thinking?” I asked her.
“Dad’s right,” she said. “This does look like Pacific Ave. All of it. It really brought me back to my childhood.”
“See how crowded it is here right now, Nat?” my dad chimed in. “It’s how it used to be. We used to go from bar to bar when the drinking age was 18, because they were all right next to each other. Everyone you knew was there. It was the place to be, and this is exactly like it.”
“And it was like this during the day, too, with the crowds of people,” my mom said. “This reminds me of when I was really little, holding my aunt’s and uncle’s hands and passing all the 5 & 10 cent stores and walking down to the beach. Sometimes they’d let me stop and buy a toy to take down. It was my favorite part of the day.”
I looked around for myself at the scene laid out in front of me. It did look like home, which made me like Wilmington a lot more. I imagined a historic downtown Wildwood, with booming businesses and thriving crowds all on the downtown strip. I imagined it so much that I seemed to place myself there, back then. And my parents were still there, but younger—still awing, and still smiling.