There were eight of us kids, now all grown, all parents ourselves. We came together for a trip down memory lane with our mom and dad. Prodigal Californians returned, driving slowly down Storey Lane.
“Oh, my- look at what they’ve done to the Baines’s yard.” somebody pointed out, marveling. Our neighbors the Baine’s had lived by us for years. They were Indian and had a restaurant that failed; not before they had hosted one of my sister’s wedding parties. Their home had smelled of curry, onions and body odor. Their grandmother lived with them. She spoke no English and would come begging at our door for food sometimes, in loose silky clothes. Her wrinkled, toothless face framed in draping fabric. The son was younger than me, but had grown much bigger one summer and had forced a kiss on me. I remembered how he used to run home crying to his mother to tattle on me and my brother. There was a lot of fighting and crashing of furniture coming from that house. But, we were friends. After they were evicted their property was left in a dingy, tumbling mess. It stood, shining like new now... the yard was park like and blooming. And next door was our place.
The big, blue, drafty house on the cul-de- sac where we had lived for years and where half of us had been completely raised. Like wanderers into some kind of alternate reality we found ourselves there again, intruders in an intimately familiar place. We were allowed inside to haunt the halls like ghosts. Floating across the threshold greedily searching...there used to be mirrored tile on the walls veined in gold and some orange and brown striped wallpaper in the entryway. I had always wondered why my parents hadn’t taken that junk down. Now I felt like a blasphemer in a tomb. Rather tastefully put together now... the old place had gotten a face lift in its midlife.
“My room is an office now.” I commented, looking with a strange detachment at the cubical I had called my own- had grown up in like a veal fattened on life. The window gaped at me in recognition. My, how I’ve grown. The pomegranate tree pressed its leaves against the glass from the outside as if for a better look. That window; I had leaned out of it in the darkness of night in secretive discourse with my best friend. The walls had been peach then. I had painted it myself with one of the boys who swore he loved me. It wasn’t my room now; white walls, bookshelves, a desk and a staring computer. My posters of Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, John Wayne and the other silver screen idols were gone. What had become of them when Mom and Dad packed up my childhood and moved? The worn wood floors had a new gleam to them. Who are you? And what have you done with my memories? I felt myself ask vacantly backing out into the hall. Everyone pressed around each other peering into every room, yet somehow alone in our thoughts. The foolish and oft heard “Didn’t this used to be bigger?” irrelevantly crossing our lips.
The “blue room” where the bookshelves and polished baby grand had been was no longer blue. The family room with the high hearth and river rock wall we would climb was neat and clean. No more sunken rust colored couches and friendly, hideous shag carpet. The fireplace was swept spotless. It would usually be mounded with ash. My dad taught us to love a roaring fire. Sometimes I hated this house and wished it looked better then...but now I quietly cursed it for being different. The big kitchen where we had gathered and eaten and celebrated so much seemed like a jilted bride, all in white, the familiar counter tops worn and chipped, no aroma of dad’s concoctions. Up the stairs in single file we drifted. We had run down these stairs dozens of times on a Christmas morning and to the call for dinner, or the knocking of the door. Oh, the streams of friends and family that had flowed through our doors. The laughing and shouting and singing had evaporated.
We snapped our cameras and smiled and gestured. Out in the back yard some trees were gone. The big plum tree stood embarrassed, as if caught in the act, brimming with fruit about to ripen for another family; our beloved pets of the past pushing up the green grass all but forgotten.
“I’ll be darned. That blasted fig tree is finally producing.” My father shook his silver head. It had never born figs before. I gave an ironic smile. Here were my five sister, two brothers and my parents, standing all together. I saw my older brother smiling at my older sister and she smiled, too. I wondered when that had happened last. It was inevitable that we should all be smiling and hugging. I was surprised that I didn’t want to cry. It was all a dream and the sense of loss at waking had begun to retreat and fade. The old place didn’t seem real... it was strange and almost unrecognizable in a way. Like when you meet someone who reminds you of a loved one... hey, doesn't she remind you of so- and-so. As we prepared to go and wandered out into the front yard my eye caught something; an old metal wheel on the side yard that had always been there. As kids we thought it was a wagon wheel. It was in fact, a bull wheel from an old fashioned printing press, chipping several layers of paint. I climbed on it and rolled it as a child. It was the same. That hit me for some reason... like Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes. This strange place really was my home. That ridiculous wheel- was it evidence of pioneers before us or an omen for my future? I squeezed my nearest sister’s hand tightly.