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Monday, May 9, 2016

Going Back

It was getting to be late afternoon on a rainy Saturday two days ago. Trent and I had spoken briefly about what we might possibly throw together for dinner. There were things to eat, mind you, but we hadn't taken anything out of the freezer, nor had we gone to the supermarket to buy something that we could whip up that night. About half an hour after realizing that we might end up making salads topped with hard-boiled eggs (we weren't thrilled with that option, but willing if necessary) or simply eating eggs and toast, Trent's phone rang. It was our friends Thayne and Marie asking us if we might be able to go out to dinner with them on very short notice. Like in about fifteen minutes. Could we? Heck, yes, we could. Let us slip on our shoes and we'd be ready to go. It was serendipitous timing. Usually when we get this type of call we have already eaten an early dinner, or dinner is in the process of becoming a meal on the stove or in the oven.

We had a good time during dinner, catching up on things and enjoying everyone's company, as friends do. Incidentally, I ended up eating a salad, but instead of being a handful of lettuce and a hard-boiled egg, it included mango and grilled chicken and fried wontons and peanut dressing. It was tastylicious, and not at all sad-looking.

When we were almost done with dinner, Thayne took me by surprise. He had read my most recent blog post, Things I Miss, in which I had waxed rhapsodical over the loveliness that was my Gram's yard and garden(s) and how much I missed it, especially at this time of year. Apparently this post made several of my readers feel nostalgic as well, reminding them of their little Grammies or Nanas or Grandmas. Some were also reminded of the homes in which they grew up. One friend asked if I had gone back to see the old place. I admitted to being a bit of a coward about that, and we both observed during our brief online conversation that after you leave, it's no longer a home. As I said, with Gram gone, it changed from a home to just a building. But I said that I might check it out some day.

As I began to mention before we took this detour, Thayne surprised me at the end of dinner by asking if we needed to take a drive by Gram's house before we headed to our respective homes. If I had been given any time to think about it, I might have said no, but since it happened so quickly I allowed myself to be swept up by the benevolent hurricane that is Thayne, and we set out to drive to the old neighborhood.

As we came within a dozen blocks of the major intersection nearest the old home place, we noticed that the flower shop that had been on one of the corners for twenty or more years (Apricot Halves, the one that sold bo-kays) was gone and a new building was under construction. As we grew closer, we passed by the street on which Gram's daughter Jackie had lived for many years. The old family-run fish and chips restaurant that we still enjoy was in its old spot a few blocks from Gram's old home, a faithful friend serving delicious food.

Before we knew it, we were turning on my old street. The yard on the corner was so different, I noticed. And across the street, as I told the others, was the house where the couple locked us in with a deadbolt lock when we babysat. It scared me because there was no way to open the front door if there had been an emergency. And Liz used to say that they parked their twin Mustangs back-to-back so that they could compare how much liquor they had left in the trunks of their cars. Maybe she'll comment about that.

When we passed the Phillips' house, next door to Gram's, I was surprised to see that the beautiful tree was gone from the front yard. And the hedge that ran between their yard and ours, which Mr. Phillips had always kept beautifully trimmed and squared off, had ballooned out and looked quite unlike its normal fastidiously-groomed self.

And then Gram's house. My house, but not my house. So much had changed. The front yard, which had been a lovely expanse of green lawn, was so much smaller now. It isn't because I have grown taller either, although I have gotten a bit larger around just like the hedge. I was an adult when I last lived there. Gram's was the only house on the block in those days without a driveway. It made the front lawn so much larger and the house a tiny bit cooler in the summer. That area of lawn has been removed and a driveway now goes all the way from the hedge to the side of the house.

Gram's incredible lilac bush is only a memory. Where the wisteria vine once clung to the southeast corner of the house, there is no plant life. Only a small satellite dish, perhaps one-tenth the size of the lovely vine, blooms on the lonely kitchen wall. The immense plum tree that reigned over the larger side of the back yard has been deposed, and now a garage sits where it once lived and gave of its shade and delicious fruit.

The evergreen tree that was at the northwest corner of the house, in the front yard, has also undergone a transformation. The top has been lopped off, along with all of the branches, leaving a knobby barkless trunk several feet tall. A peek from the street showed me that Gram's beloved irises and rose garden are also gone. Where the beautiful roses of so many colors once lived wild and free, there is a small chiminea and a few other scattered pieces of pottery. The metal awnings over the front picture window and Gram's two bedroom windows still remain, shading the house from the hot afternoon and evening sun as they've done for so many years. And a new storm door guards the front door with white-painted wrought iron.

Seeing all of the changes didn't depress me. As I've said, and Luther Vandross sang, a house is not a home. The shell that resides there is not where my memories take me. My memories occur on a different street, in a different home, at a different time. The things that are changed still live in the home of my memory. And it is good that the newer residents have made the house their home, their castle, their oasis. That is entirely as it should be. The places from our past are only historical monuments in our own hearts, not everyone else's. Perhaps fifty years from now, someone will write about how they miss sitting in their Granny's yard after dark, lit only by the softly glowing embers in the pottery chiminea. I hope so.

After we left my old street, we drove by the elementary school I attended so many years ago. I was surprised that I still remembered which classrooms I had been in, although I can't remember the name of my sixth-grade teacher. This may because she had a tendency to be quite cranky and often threatened to take the rest of the year off and leave us at the mercy of subs because she had lots of sick time saved up and we kids were terrible, darn it!

Within a short time, as we headed north, the time shifted fully to the present. I am glad that I had the chance to see my old home again. While it does make me a bit sad to see how drastically different it is, I hope that the families who live there in the coming years love it as their own home. In a way, I think it might have been more potentially painful to see it looking as it did back then, but with different people living there. It would be like walking in your front door and finding all of the usual furniture but seeing strangers living there among your things. 

So to the people living at 7--- No-name Drive, be happy. Make the home your own, but make something even more important. Make memories that your family can cherish for years to come. Love it as I loved it. And when the time comes to move on, do so with your head held high and your eyes looking forward. The future is in front of you, and only memories lie behind. 


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