Home Again?

Today I decide to drive past the house.  I’m in Indiana, my hometown, and I take a side trip after visiting my high school.

The drive out is familiar.  It’s been twenty years, but I still remember the bridge over the river, the angled stretch by the Christmas tree farm, where there used to be a sharp L in the road.  I go past the stop where I caught the bus at the beginning of third grade, before we moved out to the “country,” so I could start school with my new classmates.

There is the house where Starla lived, where we’d ordered pizza since my house was a half mile out of range of the delivery guy, and then rode our bicycles down the road, holding the pizza boxes and laughing, the same house where we made dinner for those two cute guys, and the mashed potatoes turned out lumpy.

I drive past the Martins’ farm, where my brother’s dog Ben almost drowned in the manure pit, and where the cows got loose and I narrowly missed one when it loomed up in my headlights.  I drive past the house where that other dog lived, the one who snuck into our sheep pen with a pack of its brethren and ripped the throats out of our flock, leaving them to die in the pasture, flies buzzing around their congealing blood.  That was the only time I ever heard my father threaten violence, when he told the neighbors that if he saw the dog on our property again, he’d shoot it.  Strong words from a gentle man.

I drive past the Nunemakers, who replaced their “m’s” with “n’s,” turning the neighboring Zimmermans into Zinnermans, and mushrooms into mushroons.

And then I arrive at my house.

Only it isn’t my house at all.

Instead of the white wooden siding, it is now dark gray, with bright white trim.  The century-old trees have been replaced with younger starts.  The garage, also gray, is now a chicken coop, and the entire property is bordered by a thick vinyl fence.  The barn is bright red, with white highlights, and a huge play set dominates the back yard where we played catch, and where I learned to drive the riding lawnmower.  The mailbox, where I waited for letters from certain boys, no longer stands at the end of the lane, and the row of trees has disappeared from the edge of the field across the street.

My stomach is in knots as I slow the car, and then my foot presses on the accelerator, taking me up past the Pletchers’ and the “Zinnermans,” down the steep hill where my legs would grow tired on my bicycle.

I choose a different way back into town.

Judy Clemens is the author of the Grim Reaper and Stella Crown mysteries.

3 Responses to Home Again?

  1. I was also recently in that same hometown. Just me, for 10 days to help celebrate my dad’s 80th. Knots followed by acceleration . . . well said.

  2. I come from a family that loves to revisit the homes we once lived in. I don’t do it myself unless I happen to be nearby (laziness not a lack of nostalgia). It is a strange feeling to see changes. I love how in your essay you merely say “my stomach is in knots . . . and then my foot presses on the accelerator” Anyone who’d experienced what you described would be feeling disturbed and you trusted that. Well done!

    My sleuth, Professor Bradshaw, lives in the house in Seattle where my grandmother lived when I was a child. I changed the address in the book, but it’s her house, slightly altered by my memory and the needs of fiction. My sister used to drive by the house all the time, and the woman now living there once invited her in to look around. The house has changed, but in a graceful way, maturing more like a person does. My mother now drives by often with my grandmother, whose short-term memory is failing. They pause, gaze, then drive on, and a few minutes later Grandma will ask when they will drive by her old house. Sigh. Something about that house keeps pulling us all back. Nothing out of the ordinary happened there, but it seems to hold something about us we’re not willing to leg go of.

  3. A very poinient essay, Judy. My daughter who isn’t yet thirty complains that when she goes back to the old neighbourhood everything has changed and she says “I’m not old enough to say I remember when…”

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