The picture at the left is what remains of my first home, the house where I blissfully spent the first seven years of my life. It now sits on the city's demolition list, abandoned and used for too many drug deals to make its restoration desirable. Doors are busted out, broken windows are boarded. But you should have seen it back then.Well, maybe not. The truth is it was a small two bedroom, one bath house situated on a foreboding hillside and in the midst of a bad turn on our town's major highway. The front porch was always dirty from the traffic, and heavy concrete posts had been driven in the ground in front of the house to keep errant vehicles that missed the turn from coming in our living room. The living room was an acceptable size, but the two bedrooms and bath were barely sufficient to sleep our family of five. Steps from the living room led to the basement and then to the dining room and kitchen beneath that. There was a back porch that set off the dining room that seemed entirely too high in the air. The metal cabinetry and old appliances in the kitchen were utilitarian at best.
But in that kitchen was a cheery red table where I drew pictures as Grandma fixed dinner, backed a pie, or canned the harvest from our garden. My brother and I could ride our pedal-powered cars in the ample dining room and on the back porch. We had fun there. We colored, cut paper, used glitter and daydreamed there. It was warm and safe.
My favorite part of living at 714 Milford Street was being outside, where I was mostly alone and unsupervised. (Mind you, we moved before I was eight. The freedom I enjoyed as a small child is difficult for most to believe.) I swung on the fronds of the willow tree, no doubt singing at the top of my lungs. I picked the sweet peas and Rose of Sharon. I played on my swing set. And most importantly, I played with dogs that lived under my porch - two beagles, Sherry and Duchess. My cocker spaniel, the house dog, followed me wherever I went, which may explain why no one worried about my escapades. If I left my yard, it was to walk along my neighbor's walled garden. I spent plenty a day trespassing, bringing no harm, simply enjoying the fragrance of the wonderful garden.
If my dad was working split shift, we would sit on the front porch in the afternoon and watch cars go by. He would wave and yell "who that?" at every car that went by. He would wave respectfully as Pop Bottle Pete trudged by, pushing his wheel barrow. He taught me to recognize and name every Chevy and Ford that passed, and I could promptly discern the differences among the BelAirs, Biscaynes and Impalas from the late 50s to 1967. I learned a few Fords and Mercurys, too.
Whenever my dad was home, I was his shadow. He tended a magnificent garden on the lot next door, and I was there with my toy rakes and hoes working alongside him. I can still smell the Rose of Sharons, the dusty beagles, and the aroma of my grandmother's canning Concord Grape Jam as it I were smelling them for the first time. I can see the bumblebees as they moved from the Rose of Sharons to other plants
In the evenings or on weekend afternoons, we would sit on the back porch and watch the boats cruise up and down the West Fork River, back in the days it was navigable, before the Flood of '85 and subsequent flood control initiatives left it shallow and debris-filled. In the winter we would lay across one of the beds upstairs and watch folks skate across the frozen body of water. The West Fork was an unofficial calendar of the arrival of summer and winter.
These were peaceful times.
Now my hometown is anything but peaceful, taken over by drugs and prostitution, the recourse of those with no viable economic future. The walkways around my house have eroded to gravel, weeds choked out the sweet peas. I have not been around back to see the Rose of Sharons, but I doubt they remain. The lot next door where my dad maintained his garden is filled with sumac trees and the occasional deer carcass. I want more than anything to buy it and fix it, to restore my memories, but what would be the point? My memories are my own now, as everyone who shared them with me in that house is dead. It is best just to let it go.
I have been doing a lot of letting go lately. It is not my favorite thing.