I lived in the same house in Missouri from the year I was born until I was dragged kicking and ya’lling to North Carolina when I was 14 years old. My subdivision, Apple Hill, sat across the street from the elementary school and made Leave it to Beaver’s neighborhood look like a crack den. The adults would porch sit most evenings as we launched our Schwinns from homemade bike ramps or played Kick the Can. Once the sun went down we would follow the cigarette smoke and laughter wafting into the trees and join our parents on the hard, brick ledge. In the winter months we roller skated in my basement or Radio Flyer’ed for hours until we ended up in my mom’s kitchen stripping off the wet and slurping tomato soup by the fire. Cue the Bing Crosby.
I couldn’t have written a better childhood.
The summer after Eighth grade I got my first, second and third kiss (not that I was counting) from the cute boy up the street. You can’t deny that Spin the Bottle is educational and I really liked learning. You can imagine the devastation a few weeks later when the moving truck pulled out of my driveway and I had to leave my Spin the Bottle Boyfriend behind.
Spin the Bottle Boyfriend (STBB) tracked me down on LinkedIn a few months ago. I’ve waited a long time for guys to call after benefit of a kiss, but 38 years? He asked if I ever made it back to St. Louis and wondered if I ever visited the old neighborhood when I did. When I told STBB I was thinking of flying home at the end of August, he suggested we meet in the old neighborhood where we had spent so many seasons. His sister had bought his parents’ home and was in the midst of remodeling it. How could I resist? The Fireman and I packed our bags and booked a flight.
I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied merely retracing my steps on Tree Top Lane and catching up on old times. Though my mom died in 1997 and my dad passed in 2003, there’s a part of my brain that was convinced they were still living in our home like it’s 1972. I needed to feel them in those rooms one more time, as they used to be, and how I used to see them. It didn’t matter whose name was on the mortgage. I had to get inside my old house.
I could hear the restraining order being filed as I licked the envelope.
I wrote (in my best penmanship) that my parents had built their home in 1965 and that I had many wonderful memories there. I asked them if I could walk around their backyard and perhaps take a picture by the front door. I also may have mentioned that I used to lay down in my walk-in closet, in the dark, with the door closed, and asked to experience that feeling one more time.
Shocking, but they didn’t rush to respond.
When the day came to reunite with Spin the Bottle Boyfriend, I was nervous. I debated bringing a Dr. Pepper bottle with a big bow on it but resisted the urge as I wasn’t sure if his wife would be with him. STBB rounded the corner and the second that I saw him he looked and felt like home. I was fourteen again.
Walking my old street was like strolling with ghosts but in wedges and fancy jeans. Memories swirled with each step. Though a few neighbors had painted their front doors or added a new mailbox, the exteriors of most of the homes were remarkably unchanged. Even the concrete felt the same.
The landscape had grown. The cluster of trees where a friend and I played the “You Show Me Yours and Maybe I’ll Show You Mine…Yuck, That Was Not What I Was Expecting, PS: Please Put That Thing Away” game with two boys from our class was much larger. (Hopefully, so were Nicky and Sean.) Otherwise, most everything on my old street seemed smaller than I remembered. The walk from STBB’s house to mine was shorter than I recall running when my mom summoned me home at dusk. My expansive driveway was half the length of the space it took up in my head. The front yard was barely the crust of a pie-shaped lot.
Standing in front of my house was emotional. Except for the yellow door, little on the outside had changed. My heart ached to see the inside. I told STBB’s sister that the owners hadn’t responded to my letter. She had no problem pounding on the back door and explaining who I was. The owner smiled and welcomed me inside telling me she had just received my letter (or hadn’t finished filing a report. Whichever.)
Each room was decorated differently but it felt exactly the same. Memories swept me in – the stairs I snuck down each night after bedtime so I could listen to my parents laughing to Johnny Carson; the family room where my Dad and I snuggled Christmas morning because I got so excited about Santa that I hurled all night; the bathroom where I first got my period during a commercial break from The Love Boat; my walk-in closet where I hid when my Uncle Lou died, and regularly used as a refuge whenever life got difficult.
The only corner that didn’t hold a vivid memory was the addition the new owners added to the kitchen. Each room held it’s own screenplay, a sequel playing for each year I lived there. And, although this wasn’t the only house I’d lived in as a child, it was where I spent my most innocent and vulnerable years before puberty and general obnoxiousness kicked in. It’s where I have the clearest memories of my parents, not as real people with faults, not as elderly or sick, but as my all powerful and all loving mommy and my daddy. In this house my parents hug each other when my dad gets home from work and I still squirm between them and dance on his shoes. In this house I set up my nativity scene in my room under my two foot plastic tree as “All Holy Night” sings from a scratchy album. In this house I talk to my best friend next door through two cans and 40 feet of stretched string. This house knows puppy love, the sound of the ice cream truck and Mary Tyler Moore. This house knew me before I was sick. Before I got married. Before I experienced soul crushing losses. Before I got divorced. This home recognizes the girl who had nothing else on her mind besides freeze tag and what to write about in her diary.
And for one Friday afternoon, with Spin the Bottle Boyfriend, I was that girl again.
And with tears streaming down my face, Spin the Bottle Boyfriend on one side and my Fireman on the other side, I walked back up the street to my car.
I was home.