Disturbing My Memories
This summer (2011) my husband and I returned to several places we had lived in the early years of our marriage.Along with seeing these houses, we took a detour and found the house I lived in from ages 3 to 18.Those were important years, I am sure, for all of us – years during which we built our character and foundation for life’s challenges.
Once on the street, I immediately felt disoriented.Where were the trees that towered proudly in front of each house?Where was the big oak tree that I used to climb – the one that was located beyond the sidewalk in the parkway of grass that reached the curb.This could not be my street – my West Lane.This street was four lanes wide rather than two; this street had lots of traffic -- not like the street I grew up on which only had an occasional passing car, not dozens of cars speeding by.OMG, it was a visual example of the difference in speed and time from the slowness of the 50’s to the accelerated pace of the 21st century.
As I walked toward my old house, I noticed parched lawns everywhere displaying their tan color.After all, it was summer, but even still, I don’t remember our lawn ever getting that sad “water me” look.Our grass was always green even though we did not have built-in sprinklers, just a hose with an attachment that had to be moved often.
When I reached the flat front porch, I saw the number 1719 and knew this was my old house.I looked to my right and saw the decorative divider my father had built almost 60 years earlier.Wow, was it that long ago?
I started paying more attention to my surroundings.On the left side of the door was a large front window with the drapes drawn. (We often did the same thing in the summer to help keep the house cool.)I backed up several steps and noticed the wide planked overhang that my father had built to give shelter to the front porch.This was a 1930’s cottage style house, and by cutting each board at an angle on the end, it gave it a distinct finished look.I then looked at the brick work he had done – probably in the same year he built the divider on the porch.Under the large window, he had used old brick going up about three feet, but under the front bedroom window to the right of the front door, he had added another foot of brick to give it a nice design look. I was so proud having such a nice looking house – the best on the block I thought.
When the Fall leaves would drop to the ground, I would gladly go out after school and use a rake bigger than myself to be able to see the emerald green of the grass under the leaves.When I had finished raking, I would stand back and admire my work and think about how rich I was.Little did I know at the time, I was a little Virgo girl – the astrological earth sign that doesn’t mind work and likes order.
It disturbed me that my memories were being shattered as I looked around and saw all the neglect.Even the white brick chimney was crooked – what caused that?The flower beds were full of weeds; the outside paint was peeling; and the driveway had several old cars parked in a row. The garage, which years before had been a room for my parties and later converted into an apartment for my grandmother, looked vacant and rundown.
This was a house my father – a carpenter by trade – worked every weekend on some major project.As he created, my mother followed doing all the finishing work, like sanding the seams on the drywall before painting the new wall my father had put up.This was a house that we took care of for over 15 years.This was a house that the cousins would come to for Thanksgiving dinner.This was the house I did my song leading routines in the backyard with four other high school girls.This was a house that loved being improved on a continual basis.But now, this was an unloved place – a place that people just seemed to hang out.
Even though I was reluctant to ring the doorbell, I had come this far, so why be shy now.As I stood looking at the screen door, I could not see who was standing behind it.All I could see was the heavy tight screening of a security door.I said, I think, “Excuse me for disturbing you, but I used to live here many years ago.It was my dad who did the brick work and built that divider on the porch.”After saying that, the resident opened the screen, but stayed within the door frame.But at least I could now see him.
My first impression was that he was around 50 years old, but during our conversation he said he was born in 1971.He told me his grandparents had bought the house in the 1960's, so that meant they bought it from my parents.He inherited it when they passed.
I continued asking him questions, and he politely answered them.He said the last time anyone live in the converted garage was his uncle during the 1970's.I asked if there was still a screened porch in the back, and he replied that was where the washer and dryer were now located.As I looked at this man, I felt like he was decaying just like the house.His hair was down to his waist.He had tattoos all over both arms, and he looked like he could have been blind in his left eye.He definitely could use some TLC – just like the house.
He said he would ask us in, but the house was in a terrible mess.I responded that it was OK.(In fact, I was secretly glad because I did not want to lose my inside memories as well.)I discussed with him more details about the work my mother and father had done during the 1950's, and I closed by thanking him for his time.
As I walked away, I felt really sad -- sad for the man; sad for the house; and even sad for me.It was clear that I would have to work really hard to get my beautiful, safe memories back in tact.I learned a very important lesson, though.My parents took pride in what they did.That pride was felt by me for sure and hopefully by my brothers.I learned we have to work continually to stay happy and focused on the positive, and surroundings can be important in doing this.They are an extension of ourselves.
Maybe sometime in the future, someone will come along with the pride and the vision to make the prettiest house on the block – 1719 West Lane – pretty once again.I can only hope so!