I’m still a little shaken over what happened yesterday. Life sometimes gives me what I need, especially when I don’t even know that I need it.
It started with a suggestion.
You haven’t seen grandma’s and grandpa’s house in years, have you? The people who own it now have really kept up the outside. Would you like to see?
My mom’s offered a few times now, and I’ve always declined. That house was my sanctuary, and it is kept carefully and perfectly in my head – the magnolia tree in front, the wrought-iron posts, the back hallway lined with cupboards, the long, screened back porch, the yard with my grandpa’s rose garden, grape arbor, and of course the swing set he built for my mom and uncle, still in perfect condition when my cousins and I spent our weekends there.
It’s changed. I saw it once – only once – the autumn after the new owners tore out the wrought-iron posts and replaced them with wood. It was more than enough for me.
Would you like to see it? We’ll be passing close by. New owners now. They’ve torn down the garage.
Why I agreed this time, I don’t know. I was tired, the boyos had acted up during lunch, we were on our way to show them off to the office ladies at the factory where my dad works, and with the boyos’ moods, I knew it wouldn’t go well.
And I wanted to preserve my memory, to keep something with me that wouldn’t change. My life changes radically about every four years. Last time, it was the birth of the boyos. Before that, I was fired for blowing the whistle on a 65-year-old pervert who cornered a 19-year-old co-worker in his office. I went freelance after that and never looked back.
Before that, it was the college graduation and marriage double-whammy.
All big changes. But all anticipated and brought about by me.
Now it’s all changing again, and I have no control over it, and I don’t know what to do.
The bookstore is going away. Maybe forever, maybe not. I don’t know what life looks like after that.
I don’t know where I want to be.
My mom made a right and we were on the old street, slowing down to take a look at the third house on the right. There it was, still painted white, but with its new posts. The magnolia long gone.
On cue, the front door opened, and a man stepped out with his dog, a Jack Russell Terrier of all things. He looked to be in his seventies. He smiled, lifted his arm and waved.
We turned into the driveway as if we’d planned this.
He came over to the van.
My father built this house, my mom said.
Did he? We’ve wondered about its history.
Now my mom hesitated.
I don’t think I can…
Come on. Come in. Let me show you.
He gestured and turned. My mom with her tendency to please, (which she handed down to me for good or ill) still hesitated,
looked at me with my hand on the door handle, shook her head a little, then opened her own door. She followed the man up to the house as I let my complaining boyos out of the van. They quieted down immediately; a blessing.
He took us around the side of the house where the attached garage used to be, and we entered the back porch, now enclosed with windows and heated in the winter. We met his wife there, and she took our unexpected visit in stride.
Oh yes! We’ve wondered about the house. All the neighbors are pretty new, and don’t know much about the history…
Oh, well, my father built it himself in 1945, when it was almost impossible to get building supplies. It’s made of cinder blocks – great for insulating now, isn’t it? None of the windows quite matched…
I looked around at the back yard. The swing set was gone, but in its place was a tidy vegetable garden. Everything was changed, but beautiful and thriving. Then I noticed one flowering bush was still in its place, trimmed and shaped and in bloom.
We went inside. The man had owned an interior remodeling business before he retired, and it showed in the new kitchen. The layout was the same but everything else had changed. If you’d blindfolded me and dropped me into the middle of it, I might have been struck by a vague feeling of familiarity, but that’s all.
I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be in the house anymore. What if I wouldn’t remember my grandparent’s house after this?
Come on, into the living room.
I looked around, trying to place the walnut dinning table back where it belonged. The carpets were new, the paint a different color. I took another hesitant step…
and the floor creaked.
It creaked the way it always had, a sound I’d completely forgotten. With that sound, I wasn’t in a remodeled house anymore. I was back home at grandma’s, at Christmastime with the tree, the presents, the candies and cookies in their silver trays on the dinning table. It was summer, and I was fourteen on my way to the den to watch MTV. It was spring and I was seven, coming in from the swings to get a book and then head back out to the hammock under the lilacs.
I looked around and whispered to myself. Grandma. Grandpa.
We toured the rest of the house, saw where some of the built-ins had been removed, and re-built into a corner cabinet.
The windows had been replaced, the plaster repaired. The tile floor in the bathroom had stayed the same. Not much else. Nothing else.
We thanked the couple profusely, and my mom promised to send photos of the old house.
You know the address? The man asked.
My mom recited it for him before she got the joke.
In the van, she said her dad would be proud of the way the house looks now. Very proud.
I’m still not sure how to take this unexpected gift. Was it a way of showing me that the coming changes will be an improvement? Or that I will always have my memories? A few days ago, my dad remarked that you must never hesitate, and always take the opportunities that are presented to you, because life is short, and things don’t always come round again. Was this a demonstration of that?
I don’t know.
What do you think?