Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Childhood Home (Writer's Digest Prompt)

I had picked a good time for driving.  It was an autumn day, not too sunny but certainly not dreary.  The autumn colors were delightful, even this early in the morning.  I was aiming to get into Lynnwood around 9:30 and to the old neighborhood before ten.  By then, most people would have already left for work and errands and their children were in school.  When I lived there, so many years ago, I walked to school, whether it was sunny or cloudy, raining or snowing.  It was a long walk, especially when I had to wear those darn snow pants under my dress.  The fabric and the thickness of the too unflattering snow pants made a swishing sound as I walked.

If I ever wondered where my love of the natural world came from, I realized it now.  It was at that house, in that yard.  We lived there for four years, the longest we military brats had been on one place.  I remembered so much about the house and more about the yard.  It was a three bedroom, one bath, with living room and kitchen.  I can still hear the radio and The Singing Nun every morning as I groggily stumbled into the kitchen for breakfast.  The exterior of the house was clothed in dark brown cedar shingles.  At the front of the house was screened in porch.  

But that yard!  It was pure heaven for me.  The front yard was large and grassy, a great place for playing tag and Red Rover.  Near the porch were several large, round forsythia bushes that blazed yellow for a short time each spring.  Sometimes we could see--the rare times we were allowed out after sunset--bats swooping and changing direction to reach for insects.  In that front yard I first saw lightning bugs, lady bugs, and heard the chirps of crickets.

What I really wanted to see though was the back yard.  Thirteen trees!  Thirteen tall, thick trunked, leafy trees.  One, near the back of the yard, had a hollow at the bottom, between its giant roots.  At least one tiny brown chipmunk lived in that hollow.  We had tulips!  I'd never seen such flowers.  From a short distance they appeared as fire engine red petals on tall stems with three or four long, slender leaves on each stem.  When I went closer and looked inside, I saw powdery black stamens surrounded by a deep black star, such a deep black I almost felt I could fall into it like Alice.  Breathtaking.  It grabbed my dreams and imagination and gave me such joy.  

Chipmunks and squirrels, blue jays and cardinals, red-breasted robins, tiny hummingbirds and red-headed woodpeckers, wrens and finches all came to that haven with the thirteen trees.  My favorite visitors were the mountain bluebirds--oh, how lovely and delicate they were.

The voice in my GPS brought me back from my thoughts when it said, "Turn right at Old Hill Road."  Chills ran from my neck to my knees.  I was on my old street.  I could see much was the same: well-kept lawns, a lack of gates and fences.  There!  The Finnegans' house, where we played girl things in the play house and sometimes were allowed in the boys' tree house, an immense and solid structure supported between three threes.  "Ok," I told myself, ""now look."  My house should be...across and down the street from the Finnegans'.  I parked, slowly got out of the car, and just stood in the street, looking.  Yes, it was the same house.  The dark shingles had been replaced with white siding and black shutters, and the forsythia had been replaced by azaleas.  I looked over the roof of the house, and knew only a few of my thirteen trees were still there.  My heart broke a little, and I chided myself, "You knew it would not have stayed the same.  Not everyone loves raking the leaves from thirteen trees every fall."

There was no car in the driveway and the neighborhood was quiet.  I heard a dog bark a few houses down, but nothing else made a sound.  I walked down the driveway, remembering how it used to be gravel rather than asphalt.  Reaching the porch door, I was surprised to see a sign on the door.  

 by the City of Lynnwood.
This was a place where people just existed,
never a home with love and laughter.

Shattered, I walked back to my car.  Once belted inside tears rained down and I remembered.  Other than the lilting voice of The Singing Nun, I could not find any happiness, love, no event or conversation in that house.  The only joys I found there were chipmunks and bats, tulips and forsythia, and all the birds sitting in the thirteen trees.

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