You know, you really can go home again. I just did.
On the trip back from vacation, instead of sitting bumper-to-bumper in Chicago traffic, we swung to the west and visited my old stomping grounds: the neighborhood where I lived from ages one to eight. Now that seems like a short span, but it was such a pivotal time. That early childhood experience has influenced much of my life, including my dreams. I also recently toured my old house, school and downtown aerially on bing.com. It was weird, but kinda neat. I had no inkling that I would virtually be re-tracing those footsteps anytime soon.
The opportunity just presented itself.
Oh and what a delicious treat it was. First we went straight to my old house at 274 Forest, an address forever etched on my heart. It's a beautiful Dutch Colonial on a tree-lined street. not the barn red I knew, but taupe and twice the size. All of the primarily 1920s and 1930s houses have been enlarged and well tended. Funny thing is, they seemed so much closer together, but I'm probably at least twice as big as I was then. One neighbor I swore was two block away was, in reality, four houses to the south. And the school was a two-block walk as an adult. An eternal trek – especially at lunch time or after school scurrying to catch Dark Shadows – as a primary student.
The house looks wonderful and it struck me that it feels like the house in which I currently live. My mother always said that, but I didn't believe it until being there again. Both houses even have funky little windows at the top of the stairs.
We parked in front of the house and I tromped up and down the street, remembering which neighbor lived where ... some I had not thought of since we left in 1968. The visual aid really opened the memory gates. Names and faces surfaced that I had not recalled since I was eight. And, really, not much had changed physically.
The house on the corner was home to a big brood called the Hersfelds. As a kid, it seemed like they lived in a castle with a wide L-shaped hall spacious enough to accommodate several bunk beds. Kind of like a big dorm. A really fun big dorm with lots of neighborhood pillow fights. It, somehow, seemed diminished in stature to my adult eyes ... until I smelled the peculiar musty musk of books. Only in front of this house. Likely what I would have sniffed it there as a kid. Interesting what smells can evoke, isn't it? It was a place of grand memories no matter the literal size.
I relished plodding my old path to school. And the fact the old brick Main Street Elementary is now a very active rec center, carefully remodeled to be fully functional, yet preserving the fine old bones and woodwork. My kindergarten room is a preschool, my first-grade, a dance area and, best of all, my very favorite second grade class is the arts-and-crafts studio. Nothing could have made me happier.
As I lurked around the side of the building to that bottom corner room, I relived the memory of a classmate with some disabilities who walked out into traffic and was hit. She survived with a broken leg, but it was the worst thing I had experienced in my young life.
Yet it was also within this story that an adult Sunday School teacher told me at age three my heart was black with sin. That is something with which I have been struggling a long time. I intuitively knew it wasn't, but was not capable of saying so. It had not occurred to me, until now in processing my time travel, that so much more happened in those years than merely that.
Maybe that's why I was called home ... to see the blessed community that shaped me so early in life ... much more so than a well-intentioned, but very wrong, adult.
Funny, we did not have time to drive by my old church. I was more bent on walking downtown to the drugstore where we'd go as a group for green rivers at the soda fountain and by:
– the community pool where I took my first strokes;
– the haunted house now astonishingly beautiful;
– the turreted Victorian where I adored pre-school;
– the train station from which my father left and returned each week day;
– the dime store where we (my twin and I) spent our first allowances; and
– our favorite babysitter's house.
Although the drug store is now a restaurant, we stopped in for lunch and did, indeed, have green rivers and I was satiated on so many levels.
I had returned home on my terms and it was heartwarming!
• Is there a time/place to which I have returned that provided a different glimpse?
• How has that changed me?
• Is there somewhere I need to "travel?"
• What places form childhood do my dreams take me?
• How have I paid attention?