Facebook Twitter

NO ONE’S HOME TONIGHT AT PLACE WHERE I GREW UP

SHARE NO ONE’S HOME TONIGHT AT PLACE WHERE I GREW UP

New snow covers the highway. Not quite enough for the graders. Entering town, the falling snow spills into the streetlights' glow like the tumbled seconds of a lifetime.

Pulling into the driveway at Mom and Dad's, I see that no lights are on, but I decide to go check anyway, since Mom will often work downstairs on quilts when Dad is to a meeting.Looking in the front door, though, I can tell no one is here. I stand in the cover of the front porch for a few seconds, looking out to the north - across the fields toward the lights of a dozen houses where there used to be none.

Snagged by nostalgia, I walk through ankle-deep snow around the side of the house to the back porch. Kicking the snow off my shoes on the green-plastic Astroturf-covered sidewalk, I climb the few steps up the porch, where I turn and sit on the top step and look out over the streetlight-illuminated snow and the shadowed impressions of footprint trails, marking the passage of people and time - a trail to the shed, another to the cellar and a single set of steps that meander beyond the naked lilacs toward the road.

Directly in front of me the black walnut rises into the murky night. Only a few seconds ago it was wreathed in red swirls of Virginia creeper, mingled with its own green and yellowing leaves.

Now its branches are covered with ledges of snow.

A vision of memory flashes. I am at Grandpa's bungalow and my folks have the sprout of walnut tree in hand - from Grandpa, or a nursery maybe, I don't recall - but I remember bringing it here and watching Dad plant it; it was no bigger around in caliper than my wrist, so fragile we were forbidden for years to climb it. Somewhere along the way I grew too old to be interested.

But my own kids have climbed it in seasons beyond those memories, piling chapters of childhood onto their own time, which they share with children of their own. Their voices echo over the night air in my mind, across the sharp, piercing air of time - and suddenly I see the barn out there where it isn't anymore, and a field with no houses, there beyond the lilacs where whole subdivisions have rooted themselves, oblivious to what was there before them.

And here by the porch, under the shade of a scraggly apple that I have memorized limb by limb, I hear the voices of Alan, my brother, and me, as we play in the sandbox that has bottle caps nailed to its sideboards. I hear our voices, just over the edge of the porch, no more than three feet away, puttering and pushing blocks of wood around, imagining they are Caterpillars and earthmovers, sliding and shaping sand into roads and places for Caterpillars to park and be turned into cars at the push of a thought.

Over one shoulder, that young me playing in the sand might turn and see me sitting here watching, had he looked for me hard enough. But then, maybe not. It might be impossible for a child to imagine a hundredth of what he will be beyond tomorrow.

It is summer and by the side of the driveway Dad is breaking a block of ice in a gunny sack for the ice cream freezer. Just inside the house behind me my mother is making pudding for the ice cream, and I am hoping to sneak a spoonful before it makes it to the freezer and the hundred turns we count to freeze it, so many light-year-turns of the handle past.

Quietly, the darkness turns to darker night, and though I have come to a place of fondest memory, I know it is no longer here in that same way, that the geography has changed, that many of the people around me then have gone, or changed, or we have all changed, until there is nothing more the same.

Yet, it is still the same in some strange way.

For a moment more, I drink up that sameness, then, rising, return to the place of now, stepping into the snow by the carport where the coal pile used to be and isn't any more, leaving my tracks in the thin trail that continues the rest of the way around the house to the car, feeling almost as if this pacing were a ritual of sorts, as if in this moment of random privacy I might bind all this up and save it, like a bundle of potpourri you find in those country craft stores, pungent with the odor of dried roses, and cloves, and cinnamon.