A couple of days ago I was driving Miss Drama to a birthday party, following GPS directions through an unfamiliar part of town when I suddenly realized that unfamiliar terrain felt very familiar.
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I was born in Memphis and until 9 years of age lived in the area known as Frayser. (Okay, technically the first 4 years were in Raleigh, but those areas aren’t that far apart). These areas are on the northwest outskirts of Memphis. In 1997 I returned to Memphis to attend college and my dad drove us through that area and past our old house, but it was almost dark and I wasn’t particularly interested, what with the excitement of starting college. So having been in the city for 19 years I have never sought out the house I lived in as a kid.
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It’s hard to say precisely what triggered that sense of familiarity. The trees? They beckoned like familiar friends. The gentle rolling hills? They reminded me of evening drives in the summer, windows down and the music of crickets, toads and whir of the car engine lulling cranky toddlers to sleep. After dropping off Miss Drama I pulled up Google Maps and plugged in my old address. I was literally a 5-minute drive away. If it had been farther, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Five minutes? How could I not?
The moment I pulled up to the house recognition hit me in the gut. Someone was parked there momentarily, driving off literally as I pulled to a stop. A for sale sign listed sadly in the front yard. I expected, given the area and the general housing trends in Memphis, a significant degree of deterioration. Based on information on the lock box and a peek through the front windows, it was possible the interior is in better condition than my house.
The gates Papa installed when I was little, probably around the time we got our Beagle puppies, were long gone.The aluminum siding had seen better days, but in many ways it was still so very much the same, albeit much smaller than memory, because I am rather larger than I was the last time I watched the house disappear through a car window for the last time. The open backyard beckoned, a place of primarily happy memories, of make-believe and games, races and gardening, digging for worms, and swinging on the long gone swing-set. The gumball trees still lined the yard, leaving their prickly nuisances that made barefoot play impossible. The giant hill my siblings and I had rolled and sent our big-wheels down now seemed little more than a slight rise. Partly due to my adult size, but probably just as much due to 30 years of rain washing soil and leaves to the lower section of the yard.
I stood by the gumball tree and memories played out in my mind. I could almost hear our laughter. I could almost see the little girls that we had chatted and played with through the fence. When I walked back to the patio, in my mind’s eye I saw my sister trip in her little hard-bottomed infant shoes as she tried to follow me into the grass and tumble before I could catch her, unhurt except for the unfortunate insect bite which made her swell up rather alarmingly. Looking up at the rusting, peeling rod-iron railing on the back step I saw myself leaning over with a stick and string, pretending to fish. In the front yard the giant oak still stood sentinel. I spent many an hour as a child running my hands over that bark, wondering at the mysteries the tree might know, wondering if it had thoughts in its own tree-way. I smiled at the maple sapling that had popped up recently by the house. Papa was forever trying to pull up saplings that sprouted to close to the house. I was forever trying to save them, burying acorns and watering little baby trees I found.
It was all so clear, as if I could just turn the pages of time and it would all be there. It’s a bittersweet thing to see the pages of the past so clearly. It’s a comfort to feel that connection, to know each page and how it brought you to where you are. The sadness doesn’t come from a desire to re-live the past. No. I lived that chapter, and I am happily living my current chapter. The pain and sadness I felt were because in a way stepping into that yard put me closer to my brother’s memory than anything else ever has.
In that house my brother and sister and I became more than just siblings, we became friends. For a time the rest of the world didn’t particularly exist for us. We were an insular little tribe of three, exploring our tiny corner of earth, making plans and dreams. It wasn’t the house that was special, not then and not now. It’s just a house like any other, but for a time it was my world and for a brief few moments I got a peek through time’s pages and remembered what that world was like.