It’s the same vision I have every night when I have a hard time falling asleep.
I close my eyes, and remember the sights, sounds, and smells. You drive under the railroad trestle and make a left past the volunteer fire house. As a little girl I spent much of my Saturdays here alongside my mother while she taught people CPR in that great room of the firehouse. I spent my adolescence serving up ham and fresh baked pies by little old ladies at the community dinners this brick building hosted on a quarterly basis. Past the fire house and further down the road, the river’s edge rises to meet the dusty road always in need of repair. Past houses that are dilapidated but inhabited by hard working people dogs are tied to chains that sit near equally dilapidated dog houses. I’m sure my mother had called the ASPCA on more than one occasion to report the owners.
As you come closer to the dead-end road, there is my house. A fixer- upper red house, black shutters with white trim. A civil-war era farm house, barn and all. I can still hear the crackle of the gravel as the car drives up the driveway. Remembering how the snow plow would scrape all the gravel encrusted snow onto the lawn on those snowy February mornings. I would curl up in bed, hearing the grumble of the tractor outfitted with a plow, secretly hoping for a snow day. There was probably a cat or two or three nestled behind my knees trying to warm itself in this ill-insulated house with cold hardwood floors and original window panes. The kitchen table has a bowl of fruit, and no doubt I can hear the “click-click-click” of the dog’s toenails as they run towards the door upon my arrival. I usually can’t make it past the kitchen or dining room before I fall asleep.
My parents sold my childhood home 3 years ago. This was in a small town in upstate New York. A town with no traffic lights, a graduating class of 60 kids, and almost every yard had a car up on blocks, needing some repair or another. Mom and Dad left and retired to New Mexico. I had encouraged them to sell this house as they got older. While still in wonderful shape, the house and its gardens and lawn needed constant upkeep and tending to…something that my parents had grown tired of, and understandably so. They were ready to retire and travel the world.
When they put the house on the market to sell, I saw it one last time and that was it. I didn’t want to see the house after they sold it and removed all its contents. I couldn’t do it. I wanted to remember it as it was in my head. And so…when I have a hard time falling asleep at night, I close my eyes, and pretend I’m driving to their (MY) house, the one in upstate NY. It’s a calming time in my mind, and it helps quiet all the other useless noise that I hear when I’m trying to fall asleep.
But last week, while on Christmas break I saw the house for the first time in over three years. My parents were in town visiting for the holiday and we had an opportunity to drive by the house. With my two year old napping in the backseat, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to take a detour down the old road.
Everything looked the same.
Maybe a bit more dilapidated but make no mistake, it was the road on which I grew up. We arrived outside our house and I stopped the car. We probably looked like weird stalkers but the time just stood still. Mom and I immediately started calling out the differences in the house that we saw. “The new owner tore down the pine forest!” “Oh look, my birdfeeders are still up.” I scanned the yard looking for the apple tree I used to climb. My eyes drew upwards towards my bedroom on the second floor. How was it possible to remember so much in a split second of time? I wanted to drive up the crackly gravel driveway and go in.
Did the house have the same smells? Was the bowl of fruit still on the kitchen counter? Did the owner ever crawl out of her bedroom window and sit on the roof as I had done during many of my angsty adolescent years?
The answer is likely, no.
We drove on down the dead end road and turned around. We stopped again in front of the house one last time. A few more comments, “What is that chicken coop thing she has in the side yard?” “Are those tent things meth labs?!” Noticing some of the uglier aspects of the place…no doubt put there by the new owner (at least in our minds).
We drove on and back up to Burlington. It wasn’t sad. I thought I would have cried, since I pretty much cry over every potential sentimental moment in my life these days. I didn’t cry. I just smiled. Since then when I have a hard time falling asleep, I still envision the house as it was…when my parents owned it. It’s perfect in my mind, although I know in reality it had its faults. A lot of them.
Those faults are not what I remember about the house. Those aren’t the images or memories that help calm me and send me along into dreamland at night. It’s Mom and Dad, friends, pets, cousins, ex boy-friends, pictures, bowls of fruit, mix tapes, dad’s guitar room, mom’s lemon drop martinis, Christmas eve parties, and so much more that I remember and hold dear to me. In these days of parenthood, and sometimes they are dark days, when self doubt overcomes me and I wonder if I’ve done a good enough job, I know that my children will remember the good things about their childhood. They won’t remember the day(s) their mom cried because gosh darn it, it was a bad day. They will remember that the gum was always kept in the junk drawer, empty wrappers and all. And that the house makes a weird creak when someone is in the upstairs bedroom. And that one time Ruby pooped right in the middle of the kitchen because mom forgot to put on her diaper.
And so much more…