A childhood friend was driving through our old neighborhood and noticed that the house in which I used to live as a teenager was up for sale. He promptly told me about it, so I looked it up online and there it was. The exterior was a slightly different color and the yard was unkempt (my mother was fastidious about that garden when we lived there) but from the outside it was recognizable. I have another friend who is a real estate agent, so I asked her if we could see the house. I knew from the pictures online that the house would not look like I remembered, but I thought it would be nice to reminisce; I have so many memories attached to that house.
The axiom holds that you can’t go home again. Life goes on, things change and we all grow and mature. Life is about change. Many of us try to hold on to the past; to relive our glory years only to be frustrated by the reality that we are not who we were back then. Why do we do this? I think it is tied to our own sense of self, and that sense of self is only realized sometime in our late teens or early twenties. Where we live at that age is often the place we consider “home.” The way we see the world at 20 is how we think the world should always be. We lived in that house when I was 20.
I grew up in that house. My dad was a military officer, so we moved a lot before we lived there, and we only stayed in any location for a maximum of three years at a time. I was 13 when we moved into that house and I moved out (not including college) only when I joined the military myself. I got my first job, my first girlfriend, my driver’s license and my first car while living in that house. I also got into my first fight, my first accident, and my first heartbreak there. A lot of who I am was formed there.
That was home when I graduated high school. It was home when I attempted college the first time (and second time—but that’s not the point). It was my home of record during my military service. I learned how to build a fort, how to fix a car, and how to cook while calling that house my home. I got married while I lived there. I brought my first born son there when he was born while I was stationed in Fort Sam Houston.
My parents had the house built in 1977 when the neighborhood was brand new. In fact, if memory serves, ours was only the third house on the street when construction began. My mother was involved in the project from the beginning, working with the builders on changes to the design and modifications that she wanted in the house. For example, she extended an internal balcony to use it as a game room. We were so anxious to move in, that some of the trim work was not finished when we occupied the house, and several times carpenters would have to work around the movers to fix things. I remember that in the dining room, there was a half-wall that would have spindles running to the roof when it was done, but when we moved in it was just sheetrocked with a two-by-four on the top waiting for the trim. I was chasing my little brother around the house and he ran into the wall and gave himself a huge black eye. In my life—including nine years of military medical service—I have only seen one black eye that looked worse. I also used to dangle him over the railing of the balcony at times. Of course, we have a cubical couch (remember those? Really popular in the 70’s) right below, so when I dropped him, he landed on a nice cushy surface.
A plumber cut an access door into my closet to get to the pipes feeding the kitchen when they sprung a leak. That part of the attic ran all the way to the garage, offering a way to get in and out of the house from my room. Once, I was planning a great runaway and I used this passage to get out. I had ridden my bicycle to the entrance to the neighborhood when it occurred to me that I had nowhere to go, so I turned around and used the passage to go back to bed. It was also a place a young man could hide things he didn’t want his parents to know he had. But it was more of a place to brood when the pressures of teen angst grew too much to bear—a place of solitude for introspection. It was also below another place I liked to go to think: the roof. It was cover in cedar shingles—long before building codes forbid them. When the weather permitted, I would often climb on the roof and sit and watch the sunsets, or the clouds go by and my favorite was to watch the skies during thunderstorms.
During hurricane Alicia, a tree fell across the roof over the kitchen. I threw a tarp over the trunk and tacked it down at 2:30 in the morning, while rain pelted me and the wind whipped around me. After the storm passed, we removed the trunk and I was about to affix the tarp over the hole when the tornadoes blew through. I sat in the hole in the roof holding an umbrella to prevent the rain and hail from soaking into the exposed part of the attic. As I sat and got soaked, I noticed across the street a crew of contractors and watched as they tried to fix their boss’s roof during the storm. Fortunately, no funnel clouds formed directly over us. We enjoyed a week of no power after that storm.
These experiences and many more all contribute to the man I am today and they make up the catalogue of memories I have and those I share with my family. Perhaps I was foolish to think that the same house would still be there to welcome me home as it had for so many years before. My parents sold the house in 1994 to move back to Arkansas—the place they call home and the place they grew up and called home when they were in their 20s.
When I went home this past Saturday, I found home was not there. It was a house, but not the same one in which I lived. As I drove up, I pulled into the drive way—the first time since I moved away more than 15 years ago. I walked through the house and I was filled with melancholy. The wall my brother bashed his eye on was gone. The attic door I used to sneak out through was gone. The Kitchen in which I learned to cook was ripped out and remodeled. The garden my mother worked so hard (and worked the whole family so hard) to cultivate—the shrubs and perennials and azaleas—were all gone. No mulch protected the weed-covered ground. The carpeted stairs we used to slide down were replaced and redesigned. My parents’ grand bathroom was gutted. The formal living room and foyer and den were all combined into one great room.
To add insult to injury, the remodel was not done well. It seems that the current owners have been renting the house out and as with most cases, renters do not take care of the properties they rent. And the owners did not go top shelf with their choice of contractor. The tile work was sloppy, the wood trim was slap-hazard, the kitchen cabinets were stapled together and the hole not filled.
As my wife and I pulled away and drove down the once-familiar streets of my youth, it occurred to me that perhaps the axiom is right—you can’t go home again. This city is not the same city it was when I lived in the house. The country has changed, the world has changed, and yes, even I have changed. I’m not 20 anymore. All we can do is take our memories with us and let those memories guide and color our lives. Perhaps that is the best way to take home with us and keep it unchanging in our minds and hearts forever.