In the 1950s, developers were building row after row of cute little houses to meet the needs of returning soldiers who were anxious to begin a new life and start a family. My folks were part of a new wave leaving the city to move out to the suburbs and so they decided to buy a brand-new house. So brand-new, that when we moved in, streets weren’t even completed. Roads of gravel were laid down with plans of being paved in the future. As a four-year-old, I remember sitting at the window for hours, watching bulldozers level mountains of red clay into what would one day be lawns and backyards. This was the place I called home.
It was a place I’d spend most of my young years. A place where I learned about life and love and family. A place that I would return to, even after I had gone out on my own – for holidays, birthdays, and visits. It was a place I could always count on to be there when I needed it. If I wasn’t feeling well, if I had a problem that needed solving, if I just needed somewhere to retreat to, I was always welcome to come home. And so, it went on for years until my parents passed away. As hard as it was, my brothers and I decided that we had to pass on “our home” to new owners.
For me, parting with the house that was so much a part of my life was not easy. After it was sold, I found myself driving by every so often, curious to see if the old homestead had changed. With every new paint job, each time a tree was cut down or a new door added, sadly, it moved me another step away from home, and so my trips became less and less until I finally stopped coming around.
Years had passed when I happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to drive by the old place. To my surprise, there was a “for sale” sign on the lawn. Curiosity got the best of me, and I made an appointment to look at the house. I can’t tell you how strange it felt, walking into the front door of what was once “my house” after almost thirty years. I expected that there might be some rearranging, but I was floored by the changes.
Walls were torn down, ceilings lowered, a hidden, dusty old staircase was now exposed leading to an entire floor of new rooms where the unfinished attic used to be. I stared at the closet door in the new family room, once covered in decals of my favorite baseball teams. I remembered the desk that I’d spent hours at preparing for college. I thought about the posters of James Dean and Marlon Brandon that hung on those walls.
As I walked through the living room, I recalled all of the decorated Christmas trees that stood there over the years and the dozens of colored eggs hidden on Easter mornings. I remembered the night of my prom. My mother snapping pictures with her Brownie camera as I, in my rented tuxedo, struck my best James Bond pose next to the girl that I was certain was the love of my life. I wondered whatever became of that girl.
The kitchen had been redone with nifty new cabinets and modern appliances but somehow, I could still smell the past’s sweet aroma of cinnamon from the freshly baked apple pies my mom put out to cool. I still heard the crackling oil as she dropped doughy donuts into a gurgling pot. I could see her smiling as she brushed the flour off her apron.
I peeked into the bedrooms remembering days of my brothers and I scampering to every corner playing hide-and-seek or tag. The sound of children’s laughter, the barking of pet dogs, a transistor radio playing rock-and-roll, my mother singing along, the blaring of the ballgame that my father was watching on TV – it all rang in my head, and for one brief moment… I was home again.
I thanked the real estate agent for her time and walked down the cement and flagstone sidewalk that my Dad put in so many years ago. One last look, then I drove off.
Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again. He was wrong. You can go home again… as long as you have memories to bring with you.