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Sunday
Aug232009

As It Turns Out, You Really Can Go Home Again, Sort Of

This is the season of cicadas.  They whir up in the morning, provide background music for the thick afternoon, and put the sun to sleep late in the evening.  This is the soundtrack of my childhood summers, the constant sound against the sharp chill of the air conditioning and the hard warmth of the sidewalk.  Okay, the cicadas, and Wham.

It's comforting to hear cicadas here; they were entirely absent in Florida, possibly eaten by some sort of larger, silent cicada which feeds on humidity and Medicare.  But I was still glad to hear Ohio cicadas again last month; while returning from Will The Smaller Child Nephew's birthday party, the GPS (yes, I need a GPS in the town I lived in my entire life) took us past an extremely familiar intersection.

"The house I grew up in isn't far from here," I told Josh The Pilot.

When I say I grew up there, I mean I grew up there. My parents brought me from the hospital and through the front door, and I didn't change addresses until I walked back out the door to go to college.  We remained the newest family on the street from the time when we moved in just before Julie The NephewsMama was born, right up until our departure twenty years on.

I was a sophomore when my parents sold it in favor of a condo.  I've seen its exterior since, once or twice.  I like to know whether or not the new owners are making an easy restoration job for the Ohio Historical Society when it's purchased as the Mary Beth Ellis Birthplace in about a decade.

I was able to point the way there without the GPS, which became intensely cross at this sudden deviation from the Mary Beth Ellis Adult Sponging Stage Place.  My childhood rolled out before us in the dusk.  There was the UDF where we walked on summer days and were not, surprisingly, lured into an unmarked van.  There was the house we always ran past because the owners favored infinite numbers of large and growly dogs to protect the supposed great wealth contained within the double-wide on the other side of the yard.  And there... was my street, a few landmarks the same, but mostly changed; the asphalt bumpier, the houses smaller.

We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac, and the door looked... wrong.  The front steps were crumbling.  The driveway was repaved.  There was a hideous pickup truck parked there, and someone had decided that a reflecting ball in the front yard was just the thing to make it all look like an authentic nineteenth century English garden from hell. It was silent, which is the one thing it never was on summer evenings when we had the run of the place; we lay on the sidewalk on beach towels and caught lightning bugs, then went around complaining that our hands smelled like lightning bugs.  The dads stood with beer cans next to the wide chain fences in the backyards and the mothers sat on hard metal furniture on front porches.

It's not that our house was painted an alien color or that it belonged to someone else.  It's that even if we drove up to a de-strangered home, with the nappy brown and yellow living room couch of yore in the proper place and Capri Sun in the refrigerator, the pieces would never fit again.  I've got to teach in Virginia on Tuesday, Will is sleeping in the twin bed I once used, and the record store down the way which carried the best jean jacket buttons closed several Presidents ago.  These things... are things.

As we drove back up the street, I glanced over at the house across the way, where a family with girls our age lived.  We were the UDF Squad, prowling the neighborhood with Barbies and Matchbox cars in hand.  There were Olympic competitions on swingsets in the summer and big colored bulbs ringing the roofs in the winter.

The house was dark, but the sun was straining just enough that we could see people sitting on the porch in hard metal furniture.  I recognized one.

"Pull up alongside," I said.

The occupants on the porch were straining to make sense of this strange car with Virginia plates on the street-- alien vehicles with out of state plates are big doings in the old neighborhood.  Then the one person I recognized... recognized me.

"Beth," she called, waving.

I mounted the steps to greet my old friend, my sister of the summer sprinkler.  She was sitting with a baby girl on her lap.  So was her husband.  Her four-year-old daughter clung to her, clad in a Sleeping Beauty nightgown not unlike the Dukes of Hazzard one from my earliest sleepwear collection.

"Are you visiting your parents?" I asked.

"Oh, no," she said.  "They sold us the house.  We live here now."

And so the most West Side thing which ever West Sided was unfolding before me, and I was so jealous I almost couldn't stand straight.  And after exhausting the fact that we had both married men named Josh, we struggled to make further conversation.  There was nothing between us, and everything at once.

I collected my Josh.  We drove up the street and back into the the life I'd chosen.   And I was glad I stopped,  but if I had to do it over again, I'd suggest that we leave the Joshes with the children and walk to UDF.  The cicadas would have done the talking for us.

slush puppies at:  mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (9)

[...] Beth goes home again Share and [...]

My childhood home was, of course, not your childhood home, but thanks for the five minutes of remembering!

August 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstarnarcosis

That was awesome, MB!!! I particularly loved the "West Side" sentence... Made me laugh, because I totally understand. And that, my dear, is why I love you.

Matt wasn't surprised at all at how well this one was written. "She's just a really great writer," he said. And that, my dear, is why he loves you too. :)

August 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarah the BFFE

Very nice. I could almost hear the cicadas and feel the cool breeze and the waning light of the setting sun :)

August 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Carah The BFFE is among us, everybody! Thank you kindly, most august BFFE.

August 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMB

Oh, MB, thank you for sharing this. Your story brought back memories of my childhood in my old neighborhood. I went by the house I grew up in once, but it just didn't feel the same. I know exactly what you mean when you said '...the pieces would never fit again'.

I was just thinking about cicadas today because they were so loud I could hear them through the closed windows at the office.

August 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCJ from St. Louis

What a great post.

My parents still live in the house I grew up in ... which is, I know, unusual for a 36-year-old woman. But my grandparents' house in a nearby city was sold fifteen years ago, and I often drive by it and wonder. Part of me wants to see the inside, and part of me doesn't.

A friend of mine once put it well: You can never really go back, except in your memory. I think her comment was about the movie "Cinema Paradiso" ... but it applies to everyone who wants to go back to childhood.

Thanks for the memory trip.

August 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGinny

[...] In my old neighborhood, upon the occurrence of any out of the ordinary event, including the squeaking of a neighbor’s breaks and nuclear bomb detonation, you go out on the front porch to see what’s what. When there’s a tornado, as my mother found shortly after moving there, you go out on the front porch with your camera.  I did not want my camera.  I did not want anything to do with what was going on outside, especially when the inside had sweet tea and two more Storm Chasers who were all, “Um.  There’s a tornado out there.” [...]

[...] In my old neighborhood, upon the occurrence of any out of the ordinary event, including the squeaking of a neighbor’s breaks and nuclear bomb detonation, you go out on the front porch to see what’s what. When there’s a tornado, you go out on the front porch with your camera.  I did not want my camera.  I did not want anything to do with what was going on outside, especially when the inside had sweet tea and two more Storm Chasers who were all, “Um.  There’s a tornado out there.” [...]

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