The house

by Jennifer on March 25, 2008

house.jpgA few years ago, my sister and I went back to see the house where we lived growing up. We both live far away from it now, but our father still lives within a half hour’s drive of the house.

Sue still lives there.

She’s welcome to it, as far as I’m concerned, though I’m not sure my father would have agreed with me about that, back when she changed the locks and filed for divorce. But neither can I imagine that he would have wanted to live there all these years since. I know that I would not have been all that happy to visit him there, if he did.

So one time, when we were both in town to visit him, my sister and I decided to drive out to the old place. Over the years, maybe a handful of times, I have coasted by on the main road, from which the house is barely visible for all the trees, more of them now than there were back then. But this time, we harvested what nerve we could, and drove down the long driveway, past the No Trespassing sign, past the spot where the old trash barrels used to sit, and then down to the turnaround where we could park the car and face the house.

If Sue was home, it was hard to tell. If she looked out the front window to see who was in the driveway, we’ll never know. But we lingered, and weren’t afraid of a confrontation, if it came to that. Short of calling the police or waving around a firearm, there was nothing she could have done to make us leave. Those days are gone, and I think she would know that.

It’s true that things–places, houses–appear smaller than they did when we were children. As we sat there in the car, my sister and I noted the truth of that. The house seemed smaller, and just less. Brush had taken over part of the yard, leaving less of it to mow, I suppose. There were tacky, alligator yard ornaments.

It wasn’t the same place. And I was not the same person.

It’s hard to say what that house and that land mean to me now. Without question, I left parts of myself there when I moved away for good. The last time I left the house, it was to return to college after a holiday break, and I didn’t know that I wouldn’t return to it. It’s just as well. It would have changed nothing, knowing that.

What is left of me there? Small pieces, yes, almost none of them essential to me now. Tears. The echo of us crying out, a sound that died out a long time ago. Photo albums with our young, sweet faces on the pages. Board games. The tree I loved to climb. The small basket of memories that were good. The violets. But there is nothing there that I haven’t replaced over time with something better. My own family. Love. Strength. Knowledge. Gumption.

I have always thought that if I had an opportunity (and the money) to buy the property, I would cancel the insurance and see the house burned to the ground. Then, I would tear out the foundation and bring in fresh soil to fill the hole left behind. Where it stood, I would plant violets, but you might have guessed that. The rest of it, I would let grow wild. I would let the little oak starts grow tall and take over the yard, and allow the wild blackberries and ferns and milkweed to have their way. In time, with enough years, those two acres might come to look something like they did before anyone lived there.

There’s little chance that any of that will ever happen. It’s nice to imagine it, though to be honest, it’s not often that I think of that place at all.

In every way possible, I live far away from it now.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

cce March 25, 2008 at 3:21 am

I’m so glad you’ve got distance enough to make this mental leap, to see it as a house and not a home that holds captive something hurtful.

Just imagining it smolder must give you some satisfaction.

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Dave March 25, 2008 at 4:46 am

I can relate to your tale. Sounds to me like yours oaks and violets are already winning.

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HRH March 25, 2008 at 4:57 am

I would donate to such a collection.

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Brenda March 25, 2008 at 5:28 am

Will you invite me to watch it burn, too? I’ll help you fill up the hole (after some big, strong cowboy types rip out the foundation) and plant the violets.

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Autumn March 25, 2008 at 6:07 am

I have to tell you, your writing reminds me so much of a favorite author I have. Have had, for years. One I read over and over again, and wonder about. I won’t mention her name here, for fear it may offend you, but I will say she had the same affinity for flowers and outdoors.
I cannot wait for your book to be finished- when it’s published, I’ll be one of the first to grab it.

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Mrs. Chili March 25, 2008 at 7:07 am

This resonated for me. The house I grew up in burned down – I can’t go back and revisit the structure – but in pretty much every way, what you describe here is what my parents are to me.

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Suzanne March 25, 2008 at 7:13 am

Wouldn’t it be nice if our painful memories could have such a viceral, concrete means to be burned out of our systems?

Burn it down and then use that fuel to create something beautiful in its place. (kinda like your writing!)

That is a wonderful idea.

-suz

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Sandy (Momisodes) March 25, 2008 at 7:13 am

What a moving entry. So well written and full of emotion. I can relate to much of this, especially the structure seeming smaller, and less. I try to drive by my childhood home every time I fly back to Florida.

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Jenn @ Juggling Life March 25, 2008 at 8:17 am

You’re eloquently expressing the feelings so many of us have about our flawed childhoods.

Isn’t it amazing that we’ve managed to create families so different from what we came from?

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we_be_toys March 25, 2008 at 8:35 am

I can almost see the ghosts of you and your sister as children, as I read this.

Maybe you can’t burn that place down to the ground and plant violets everywhere (though its a lovely cleansing thought), but I am glad you have planted your violets and yourself in a place where you can grow!

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Daryl E March 25, 2008 at 9:25 am

“It wasn’t the same place. And I was not the same person”

that is a very good thing. I am sorry you dont have the albums, those are irreplacable .. my MIL somehow lost the albums with all my husband’s childhood photos .. to me that was a very sad thing.

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Gwen March 25, 2008 at 10:21 am

Violets seem like a good replacement. Violets and oaks and green things that grow. A lovely way to describe the way in which you have moved on from your past and the way the house is linked to it.

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Motherhood for Dummies March 25, 2008 at 11:02 am

Oh how sad to have the house burn down. I couldn’t imagine loose the house we grew up in. Espesally since my parents still live there. We all go back a bit and it still seems like home!

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flutter March 25, 2008 at 11:52 am

Let me toss a match to it?

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Crazycath March 25, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Sounds to me that you are moving on, and all this writing and revisiting is quite cathartic. It certainly feels healing and healthy. To look at things as honestly as you are doing – accepting some positive even where there was so much negative – is quite a gift. Thanks for sharing this.

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Suzanne March 25, 2008 at 5:51 pm

alright….I stopped back by this evening to let you know that I’ve tagged you on my blog tonight, by way of a meme I received from Motherscribe (and thanks to you for mentioning in your blog and thus introducing me to her!)

six words….I can’t wait to see what you write!

-suz

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Landon March 25, 2008 at 7:03 pm

I hope this doesn’t make you crazy, but your post reminded me of the scene in Forest Gump when Jenny threw rocks at her house (and then Forest had it bulldozed).

Your version of destroying a place that holds painful memories ends in an image of beauty, however. That’s so you. Lovely.

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Tootsie Farklepants March 25, 2008 at 7:26 pm

I would hold the matchbook while you strike.

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slouching mom March 25, 2008 at 7:58 pm

This was so evocative. And gumption — isn’t that a perfect word!

You are a wise one, jennifer h.

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the mama bird diaries March 25, 2008 at 8:04 pm

“But there is nothing there that I haven’t replaced over time with something better. My own family. Love. Strength. Knowledge. Gumption.”

So beautiful. In many ways, that’s how I feel about my own life.

Leaving ones very imperfect childhood behind and creating a strong, abundant life is a miracle.

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JCK March 25, 2008 at 10:47 pm

I loved your use of the word gumption, too! Would that we could all form a powerful feminine circle around the house and toss our matches. Perhaps we are doing that! That must have been a powerful moment with your sister, sitting in the car, facing the house.

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leendaluu March 26, 2008 at 6:31 am

Wow, that was a beautiful, poignant post. With that style of writing, I am sure your first novel will be a success.

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Meg March 26, 2008 at 8:10 am

This post made me tear up, for more reasons than I care to admit. While I was reading it, I too was reminded of that part in the movie Forrest Gump. Hugs to you sweetie, all the way from Texas. You are an amazing woman. You are such a great writer, I too think your first novel will be a success and I can’t wait to read it!

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Hatchet March 28, 2008 at 9:40 am

“In every way possible, I live far away from it now.”

And that’s exactly where you should be.

I find that when I have a nightmare that includes a house, it’s always the one I grew up in. Nothing as happened to me as horrible as you experienced, but there were some Bad Times.

I hate those dreams.

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