Finding My Way Home
Just as I Remembered It
I went home last night, back to the brick structure of my childhood, back to 4022 North 18th, Tacoma, Washington, to that familiar neighborhood where so many good memories reside.
It looked the same after all these years.
Sloping front lawn, mammoth willow tree, bricks fading and chipped; narrow driveway, rockery, inviting front window, my parent’s bedroom window to the left of the front door, a door I opened and closed what, thousands of times, always forgetting and allowing the screen door to slam, and there’s the single-car garage and its roof, so inviting in my youth, accessed by an upstairs window, climb on that roof against instructions, leap across the rockery to the neighbor’s yard, and hope to hell my dad didn’t find out what his son had been doing.
Go around back where four fruit trees surround a patio, all installed and planted when I was five, as was the fence enclosing the back yard, as was the basketball hoop, the bamboo tree, and rhododendrons standing sentry on the perimeter. My parents were busy back in ’53, taking that empty house and making it a home, purchased for twelve grand back then, dirt roads and choking dust, dreams barely solid enough to hold onto, not much for dreaming, those two, not after the Great Depression and World War 2, just nose to the grindstone and all of that.
I approached the house and the front door opened. Mom and Dad stood there, smiling, welcoming.
Dad, just as I remembered him, only five-eight but seeming taller, salt and pepper hair, more salt than pepper, handsome rogue, barrel chest, a chest holding an enlarged heart, a heart which would ultimately be his downfall in 1969. Mom, housedress on, curly dishwater blonde hair, red lipstick, smoking a cancer stick, her Waterloo in 2003, her eyes twinkling at the sight of her only boy.
“What are you doing here, son?” Dad asked.
“I just wanted to come home, Dad. Is it okay if I stay for awhile?”
A Short Visit
The three of us, sitting round that kitchen table, so many meals held there, fried chicken on Sundays, hurry-ups the rest of the week, always important that we sit down together each night, my dad’s decree, by God a family should have the time for one damned meal together, and other than nights I had a baseball game to play, we always did. I don’t remember much about the conversations at that table, over meals, but I remember the familiarity of them, the feeling of safety, the feeling of family.
“How have you been, Billy?” Mom asked, smiling, loving in that way she had, making me feel like the most important damned person on the planet.
“I suspect you know, Mom. I’ve been okay. It was a tough road for awhile, you know? I missed you guys. I don’t know how many times I wished you were around so I could ask your advice, find out what you thought about the mess I made of it all, get a fix-it from you. But that just wasn’t possible.
“But it’s okay now, Mom, Dad. I’m married to a wonderful woman. I’m doing work I enjoy, I’m healthy…I’ve got no complaints.”
Dad shook his head.
“And yet you’re here, Bill.”
I never could fool him, not then, not now. He always saw through my bullshit, my mis-directions, and my lame-assed attempts to deflect the truth.
“I just miss home, Dad.”
He nodded his head this time.
“Let’s go for a walk, Bill. Grab your glove. We’ll play catch at the park.”
Jefferson Park, Circa 1960
We walked by the Mertz place, the Jeffersons, the Lillies, and the Birds, down Monroe Street, cracked asphalt, cracked memories, like the mirror distortions in a Fun House at the carnival, familiar and yet not in focus, one mile straight and true to Jefferson Park, the site of so many ballgames on warm, sunny summer afternoons when youth seemed impossible to dislodge and hopes were as reliable as my fastball trimming the outside corner at the knees.
The grass will forever be green at Jefferson Park, the air just a bit sweeter, and so it was on that visit, Dad and me tossing the ball, feeling the satisfactory thump of ball meeting glove, the birds singing timelessly overhead, fluffy white clouds drifting by, all the things I loved so much back then, all the things I missed so much now.
“You had a tough time of it, didn’t you Bill?”
“All my own doing, Dad,”
“Yep! No doubt about it, son, it was your doing.”
Just as he always had been, a straight-shooter, bulls-eye every single time, the truth piercing the heart and psyche of anyone listening.
“It’s just that, you know, by the time I was ready to test the waters of adulthood, head out and be responsible, you were gone. I didn’t have any guidance, no one to ask when I was confused, and it just seemed like one bad decision snowballed into more and more and . . . I just want to come home now, Dad. Is there anything wrong with that? Remember, when I went away to college, you said I could always come home. Well, I want to come home now.”
The Park Bench
He led me over to the park bench, the same bench where I kissed my first girl, Eva Bergstrom, Swedish girl, with accent, blond hair, dimples, and loved me to pieces.
He always knew what I was thinking.
“She was a nice girl, that Eva, but you’ve got a better one now, Bill. That Bev of yours is probably the nicest woman I’ve ever seen and remember, your Mom was no slouch in that department.” He leaned against the backrest, his muscles swelling under the warm sun.
“So you think by coming home you’ll what, regain something? Make all the mistakes go away? Find something you’ve lost? I hate to tell you this, Bill, but your thinking is all fouled up. You’re missing one key piece of the truth, my boy.”
Women in skirts strolled by, pushing strollers in high heels, Jackie Kennedy hairstyles, smiling at us as they passed.
“You’re missing this fact: there is no place on this planet where perfection lives. There’s no place where mistakes aren’t made, where pains aren’t felt, or where tears aren’t cried. Those things didn’t exist when you were twelve, and they don’t exist now that you’re seventy. Looking for them is just a fool’s errand.
“And I’ll tell you the biggest truth of them all, free of charge: everything you miss about your childhood, living at home, being with Mom and I, all those good memories, they are still with you. They reside in your heart, Bill. They are a part of you. You are my son and that truth will never fade over the years. Your mother’s love for you, that’s eternal. The lessons we taught you, well, you never forgot them, and you never will, and that’s like having me whisper in your ear twenty-four-seven, every damned day of your life.
The Walk Back Home
“You need to go back, Bill, back to Olympia, and back to Bev. It’s not time for you to join Mom and me yet. When it’s time, we’ll be here for you, but not now. Hold onto this truth, Bill: love never dies. There is no expiration date on love, and memories of love are forever. You never left home, Billy Boy, and home never left you!”
I see them now as I sit in the pasture at the farm, Mom and Dad smiling, waving at me, not allowing me to forget, pushing aside by sheer force of will my doubts and insecurities, and whispering answers to my questions. And so it shall be until I draw my last breath, the truth, their message, their legacy . . .
Home is eternal!
Author’s note: dedicated to the best damned parents a foster kid could ever hope for. I won the adoption lottery back in 1949, and I am forever grateful.
2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)