Monday, October 19, 2009
You can go home again. I did, this past Friday night. My sister Anne is a local realtor and had sent greetings to families in the neighborhood where we grew up, MacArthur Drive in Saratoga Springs. The gentleman who lives in our old house contacted Anne by letter (yes, a real letter) to say how much he enjoyed receiving her note. He told his daughter about Anne and the O’Farrell family beginnings in the house that’s now his home. Though her father was out of town this weekend, his daughter and her husband were here and called Anne, inviting her and any interested siblings to come by, to meet them, and to see the house today.
I lived in this house from the time I was fifteen months old to age nine. It is the first home I remember and the place where all my first impressions were formed. The house is white now. It was yellow when we lived there. Not much has changed, really. As I walked in the door, the space welcomed me home with the familiarity of an old relative. Yes, these were the same steps I climbed as a little girl. I walked in and looked down at the same oak floors that were original to the house when it was built in 1955. Everything looked smaller, the walls closer, but the essence of our home was still evident despite the stylistic and structural changes that have come in the four decades since we left. Our 1950s kitchen had white metal cabinets and a linoleum floor. This kitchen has beautiful cherry cabinets and hardwood floors. Our refrigerator and their stove traded places. I looked at the space where the refrigerator once stood and remember my tall, lanky father playfully seating me up on top – I must have been three years old, and wasn’t scared.
As we walked through the house, we remembered different things. Danny remembered having his picture taken with Anne by the front door. She responded “We had a picture taken?!” – a common lament among the youngest of large families. I remember the photo—I believe it was Easter morning and they were probably three and four years old—decked out in their holiday finest. I remembered the Christmas tree and its exact location in the small living room, and lying under it looking up at all the lights and shining ornaments. We recalled the day our new color TV, a Zenith, was delivered and set up “right in that corner,” the first color TV in the neighborhood.
The closets were in the same space. I half expected to open them and see our old things, but of course I didn’t. The bedroom hallway seemed narrower, yet still long. The bedrooms looked small. How did our parents ever fit all nine of us in this three-bedroom house with only one bathroom? The basement looked very much the same. It was the venue for all our neighborhood plays, my oldest brother Michael the director. It wasn’t long before our parents had the basement refinished into a rec room, a bathroom, two additional and desperately needed bedrooms, a laundry room, and the “shelter” where our mother crowded us all together whenever there was a thunder storm. The Bilco doors were still there. I walked into the room that had been my basement bedroom, and memories of jumping on the bed in complete delight rushed back. Next door, the empty room that had once belonged to my brother Michael came alive with memories of his scientific collections – the Invisible Head, the Invisible Woman, the Invisible Man, and his rock collection.
We went out to the back yard, and we were asked if we’d ever had an above-ground pool. The new owner is an avid gardener, and found one circular area of the back yard very sandy, and guessed that there’d been a pool. We confirmed that, noting that our family of nine and our cousins’ family of ten used to all get in to this tiny above-ground pool all together, and we have pictures somewhere to prove it! Where we once had a well-tread lawn, a swing set, and a clothes line is beautifully manicured outdoor garden. The young trees that once bent in the wind are now strong, mature residents of this neighborhood, standing guard. I’d like to think these trees knew us, when we came home, that they remember us as the first family to live in this house, and watched over our twilight games of Red Light Green Light, Freeze Tag and Red Rover. Somehow, being the first family in a home allows us to claim it as our own for life, even though a number of families have lived in it since. We were the first. It is ours.
I was too busy Friday night. I had a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. I thought about passing on this opportunity to see my old home. I’m glad I didn’t give in to the impulse to skip out on this invitation. It was a gift to go back in time, to see once again this home of Christmases and Easters past, of childhood summers and giant snow bank winters, and to share the experience with my sisters and brother. Someone said, that night, “Mom and Dad would have loved this.” I whispered, “They do.”
Photo credit: http://img2.allposters.com/images/PTGPOD/542680-FB.jpg