This past weekend my sister and I had the opportunity to visit a house I lived in from age 1 to 9. During some of my visits back to my hometown I had driven by the house but never knew who lived there. I saw how they had changed the front porch and had built a two-car garage. They painted it yellow and added shutters. It seemed like they were taking good care of it and that was all that mattered.
One day my sister coincidentally realized that the woman she had met at a social event was the owner of that house. The woman graciously welcomed us to tour it whenever we wanted, so this past weekend we called her. I figured we’d walk through, recognize some features, see what changes they had made, and leave. I hadn’t expected we’d be there for over an hour while the house unlocked a cascade of long-forgotten memories from my childhood.
From the minute we walked in, I remembered things I hadn’t thought about for years or hadn’t thought about since I’d lived there. I remembered immediately where we had the piano and our first TV set. I remembered my little red chair that was always on the porch where I would play (where IS that chair?). I remembered our rose-colored couch and matching chairs that we gave away when we moved into our new house.
When we walked into what was once my bedroom, I turned to my sister and reminded her of all the times she’d make up bedtime stories for me. I remembered the metal lamp that was clamped onto the headboard. I remembered a circular petunia bed my dad had planted in the backyard, outlined in white stones.
I remembered being confined to my bedroom with measles and the balloons my dad brought me. Even features that had changed didn’t stop me from telling them how it used to be. The back door was in a different place than it was now but I was able to point out to the current owners where it was when I lived there and even found a small indication on the wall that it had indeed existed in that spot. “There was a cupboard here HERE that held Oreo cookies.”
When we got in the car my sister looked at me with some concern as though perhaps I had gotten a little carried away. Living in the house was a different experience for her than it was for me. Since there are nearly 14 years between us, she only lived there a few years before moving out. The house had indeed come alive for me, making my memories come alive as well. It wasn’t that the memories were painful, it was just that there were so many of them. Where had they been all this time? Stored in the walls, waiting for someone to recognize and validate their existence, I presume. On my own, I would never have been able to to pull up those past moments. But with the help of some subtle murmurs, I was able to recall a cascade of childhood patterns. I have no doubt the house enjoyed the afternoon as much as I did.
An excerpt from Carole’s upcoming book “House Alive: Conversations with Your Home” due out in the fall 2010.