It could have been thirty years ago, it could have been yesterday, the memories are that vivid.
You walked in the front door and to the right sat the living room. The carpeting, red and black shag rug. The furniture, black leather. This is where I watched Gilligan’s Island reruns, waited for Santa every year, and where my mother would play Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Suzie Q” and dance with me for hours.
You moved through the living room and entered the dining room, where we gathered to celebrate birthdays every year. We would eat cake that was always beautifully decorated by my mother, in the shape of a roller skate one year, of Holly Hobbie in another. We would have ice cream–it came in a box and was sliced with a knife, and was always Neapolitan–stripes of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. (Do they even make that anymore?)
Eventually, you found yourself in a kitchen bathed in the warmest sunlight, sunlight that made my mother’s hazel eyes sparkle, the flecks of gold just glorious. The sun shone through the windows and across the kitchen table, where I ate bowls of chicken and stars soup, mountains of grilled cheese sandwiches, and piles of warm peanut butter chip cookies. There was a television in our kitchen, where I watched episodes of The Donny and Marie Show and Sonny and Cher, by myself, in the dark and in complete bliss. (The flickering light of the television in otherwise darkness still transports me back to these nights.)
As you left the kitchen, you moved through the dining room and faced the staircase leading upstairs to our bedrooms. If you passed my mother’s bedroom, you walked directly into mine, a room furnished with a white canopy bed with butterfly bedding and matching bureaus. It was here that I hosted annual slumber parties–parties where we would whisper about Shawn Cassidy and have dance competitions. Many hours were spent here playing house and giggling with friends.
Outside was a large yard, perfect for making mud pies, watching a parade go by, and playing freeze tag. Summer days were spent mixing dandelion petals into mud and offering them up to my mother for lunch. We ran in the sprinkler, the water from the hose just cold enough to make us squeal with equal parts delight and discomfort. We manned our lemonade stand (how lucky we were to live in a time when people still bought lemonade from children selling it). In the fall, we would rake up all of the leaves and jump in our piles for hours. I can still recall the smell of the decaying leaves, the joy I had jumping in them, and the discomfort of having the broken leaf bits inside of my clothing. The winter brought so much snow that we could dig and make forts tall enough to stand inside. We built seats and huddled together for warmth.
This house sat directly across from a Catholic church and if I sit still, I can still hear the sounds of the church bells that rang out each Saturday evening and Sunday morning. If you were quiet enough and the breeze was just right, you could hear the parishioners singing the hopeful hymns in beautiful unison, their voices spilling out through the open front doors.
This was my childhood home. This is the home where my mother raised me for the first decade of my life. This is the home that I will always conjure up if you ask me to describe where I grew up. This is the home in which I was happiest.
I’ve always missed this house. If you asked me why, I’m not entirely sure what I would say.
Was it the house itself? Unlikely.
Was it the neighborhood? I don’t think so.
Perhaps it was more a combination of things. It was not just playing outside, but knowing that my mother was inside making cocoa, the kind with those tiny little marshmallows that always melted just before you could actually feel them on your tongue. It wasn’t just watching tv in the kitchen, but knowing that my mother was in the other room, waiting to tuck me in and tell me just how much she loved me.
As I watch our children in our home, I wonder what they will remember. Will they be able to recall the smells of rosemary or cilantro or pancakes that came from our kitchen? Will they hear a Dave Matthews or Keith Urban song and be transported back to our living room, to hours spent dancing and laughing? Will they see a Giant’s game on television and remember lazy weekend days, spent in our living room watching them play on television? Will they see and smell gardenias and remember how they grew just outside our back door?
Will they combine these tangible things with the intangible, the love we have for them, the love that we have for each other, and combine them into a full and beautiful memory?
I pray that we are giving them the ingredients for these memories. I pray for happy childhoods for our babies.