You Can't Go Home Again

My first car, in front of the old house. I can't believe I actually took a photo of that car. But c'mon, it was mine and it had a sunroof! And a tape deck!

Was it Thomas Wolfe who said you can't go home again? Or am I thinking of The Great Gatsby? In any case, I can't go home again. And I'm feeling downright melancholy about it. Because for the past 12 years (since I moved to the midwest), I always felt like I actually could go home again.

When I tell someone, "I'm going home for Thanksgiving," they often look at me quizzically and say, "Don't you, um, go home every day?" But, you know, there's home and then there's home.

I spent the first 26 years of my life in the DC area (P and I lived in sin in Northern VA for a couple years after I moved out of my parents' house when I was 23 - hey, I was a full-time college student so don't even go there), so in many ways it is still home to me. My parents' home is comfortable, familiar. Just about everything is in the same spot it was in when I moved out 15 years ago. When I go back to visit I know I can find a bag of potato chips in the pantry - and that the pantry door will open with a squeak and that the handle is just about to fall off. I know there is cereal on top of the refrigerator. I know that the sink in the pink bathroom doesn't work right (and is now even less right after my dad "fixed" it recently). I know that the TV doesn't start working until about 20 minutes after you have turned it on. I know which chair in the living room is my mom's and I know not to sit there. I know, it seems, everything about that house.

My parents are in the process of moving to Oklahoma (where my wee baby sister lives with her husband and son). My mom is already down there, having flown out on a one-way ticket. My dad will figure out what to do with 20 years of accumulated stuff and then join her over the summer. They have four cats and my dad is going to drive down there and deliver them to my mom soon. My dad + four cats + an old Thunderbird + 1400 miles = sheer madness. Pop has promised me exclusive rights to this travel story for my blog, and I think it is going to be a good 'un.

I have to admit that in a way I'm relieved to be living so far away because otherwise I might feel obligated to head over to the house and help. I mean, there is an unfathomable amount of stuff in that house. My dad sells a lot of toys and whatnot on eBay, so the basement is full of inventory. My mom collects high-thread-count linens and bedding at a rate that would be alarming even to the Trumps. The linen closet in the hallway has been overflowing ever since I can remember.

I told my parents that if any cash is found in my old bedroom, it's definitely mine. We moved into that house when I was 16 or so. There was a bedroom in the basement so I claimed it. I froze my ass off for all the years I lived there, but at that age it definitely seemed better than being in a room right next to my parents. I also had my own bathroom down there. The bathroom had this horrible goldish copperish wallpaper that was festooned with a fuzzy black felt filigree. Later, when I was in my 20s, I would come home after drinking at a local ladies' night and would find myself sitting in the bathroom, rubbing that spectacular wallpaper with my fingertips.

Me, not sure what year. Somewhere in the early 90s.

See the white post in the picture above? The one on the porch? Yeah, it served no purpose. In fact, it was not even attached at the bottom (still isn't, I'm sure). I'm sure my sisters and I all have at least one story about some hapless date walking us to the front door, leaning suavely against the post, and then . . . that momentary look of horror as the bottom slid across the concrete and he lurched backwards. Ah, the memories. We also had a spindly little knee-high rose bush in the front yard. We never did anything for that poor bush - no watering, no pruning, nothing. And yet it held on for years and years. We called it the "first date bush." Every boy would trip over it at least once.

Believe it or not, my parents never owned the house. They didn't want to buy it because they had it in the back of their collective mind that they would move once all the kids were out of school (the last kid finished college in 2004, I think). The house is owned by a smallish Asian man named Mr. Long. My parents never minded him too much because for the most part he left them alone, except to contact them periodically to raise the rent. My parents have asked for repairs just a few times over the past 20 years. At one point, portions of the house needed a new coat of paint. Mr. Long sent over another short Asian man, Mr. Lee, and assigned him the task of painting. Mr. Lee painted as high as he could reach (while standing flat-footed on the floor) and then went home. Eventually my parents stopped asking for repairs because Mr. Lee didn't seem to have any particular skills as a handyman. And neither did my dad. So when an electrical outlet stopped working, we simply grabbed an extension cord and plugged in our appliances in some other outlet.

Homecoming dance, 1987

Check out my homecoming picture. I loved that dress and I don't care who knows it. I still have it, though I can't get it zipped. That carpeting is still in the house, by the way. Rusty brown isn't really a bad way to go when you have kids, let me tell ya. That gumball machine is still around, too. My parents have to hide it from the grandkids so it gets moved from room to room when they come over. If there is still gum in the machine, it is older than old.

I can't help but wonder who will live there next. Maybe they will care about the lawn. God knows we never did. Maybe their kids will sneak out at night through the kitchen door, like my middle sister did. Maybe they'll have a teenage daughter who will choose the basement bedroom. That bedroom has a long window that looks out at ground level of the back yard. One time my parents stuck pink flamingos in the grass about a foot from my window, just to irk me. I wonder if the new family will turn the dining room back into a place where you eat instead of the sewing room it is now. I wonder if the kids will stand in the picture window to wait for guests to arrive. I wonder if the new family will feed the birds and squirrels that my mother has fed all these years. I wonder . . .

I will still go back to DC because my middle sister and her family still live there. Also, my grandma, my father (the other father), and lots of friends and relatives. It's just going to be very odd not to go to that old house anymore. Very strange, aye.


Mary said…
I can see why you are so perty.... because you always were!! Loved the stories.... especially the one about the porch pole.......;)

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