And, even though I was young, my first real memories of life, of family, of love and loss came from hot summer days spent there. It's the first house I ever remember living in. It's where I learned to ride a bike.
It's where my first and only dog lived and died.
I remember the day we first moved in. The house had stood vacant for some time and the grass was nearly as tall as my five year old frame. It took my dad almost a week to mow all that mess. My mother, like many from the mid-seventies, loved the brick ranch style home on a corner lot at the top of a hill. Us kids- we loved the basement and back yard.
Great adventures waited.
We walked to school. We played in the adjacent woods and discovered an exciting world previously unknown. We opened the garage door and rode our bikes quickly down the steep driveway turning and braking hard in the final moments before we plunged headlong into the basement wall. We played football in the fall with our friends from the neighborhood. Dad brought home a small puppy we gently held in our arms as he lapped up warm milk.
It snowed one cold day in January.
We left two years later in April of 1977. My mom came to the elementary school and picked us up in the middle of the day. Dad had discovered greener pastures in Virginia. I sobbed quietly in the car as we left those memories and our extended family behind.
"Gold-that hardest hue to hold," I suppose.
Nearly thirty years later I sat in a car on the street outside that house in Birmingham, Alabama with my wife and three kids. I fought back the tears once more. Our summer trip south was a nostalgic sojourn of sorts. We visited some family the kids had never known-some they had. All the while I felt the beckoning of that old house- that first house and neighborhood from my past. I wanted to go there; to see it once more and finally extinguish the anxious fire smoldering inside me.
I needed to say goodbye to that place...to my place...to a chapter written long ago from a book still unfinished.
I wanted my kids and wife to see my place, as if doing so might help them know me better…help them see a part of their lesser known history…help them understand the legacy our lives write. Maybe to help me see the proper bearings more clearly...right my ship drifting slightly off-course.
Everything looked so much smaller than I remembered. Weeds pushed through small cracks in the cement driveway. The shudders needed paint. Dead, brown grass mixed with splotches of dirt and pine needles covered the yard.
It hurt to see it there and the toll thirty years had taken. I became acutely aware of my own mortality...of a body aging too. My stomach rolled over and I gasped for air trying to hold something back.
We stayed only for a few, brief moments breathing it all in.
But now, looking back, I wish I had knocked on that door. I wish I had walked around the yard and to the edge of the woods where my only dog was buried. Mostly, I wish I could have salvaged something tangible from that place-something useful for defining a future course.
Instead, I peered meekly from the car window at my history on that corner. I did little more than slow down as we drove by. Tears hung on my eyes. My voice cracked.
“Here it is.” I said.
"What's wrong, Daddy?” My daughter asked.
"Nothing is wrong, sweetheart."
"Then why are you crying?"
"I'm not quite sure.
I guess sometimes...
it's just really hard...
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