Quote of the Day:
“Anybody who has to step on the grass before we get to the bridge is a sissy.” –Smily, as we walked barefoot down the black asphalt of Woodhaven Street on countless summer days between 1978-1984
Not too long ago, TB had occasion to go home for a brief visit. Home. I don’t know if its the case for everyone, but for me, when I say home I mean foremost the home of my childhood. This is not to diminish in any way my current home, the one I expect my daughter will always think of first. But home, as in my parents’ home, is different. Its a place of refuge and certainty, the ultimate safety net, whereas my own home is not only those things but also a place of debt and chores, and a worriesome foundation.
I can still move through the house in Pascagoula blindfolded. I automatically avoid where the floor creaks, I intuitively push the door behind me with the exact force needed so that it closes firmly but without slamming, and I unconsciously kick the little block that holds one of the bedroom doors open thinking nothing of the winds that blew the old house slightly off its foundation. In my old bedroom the pennants have been long removed from the walls. Family wedding pictures have replaced old trophies and certificates of achievement. The paint and carpet are different. But its still my room. I think it recalls.
My little girl wanted to go outside so I took her first to the back yard where I could still see the dirt circle where I stood to hit stringball. You wouldn’t see it though. The grass grows much thicker there now and I annually congratulate my Dad on the lack of dead spots. Haven’t been any for awhile, I realize, as there aren’t any ballgames back there these days. Still, as I walked around the yard I sensed that the grass (once a playing field) and the fig tree (formerly first base) remembered the old days.
We left the yard and walked down the street. For years that’s all my parents knew of my whereabouts. I was “down the street” and that was good enough for them. I knew if I went “across the bridge” I’d better tell them I planned to lest they have trouble finding me; but in retrospect, I don’t recall them ever looking. We walked past Smily’s house and I thought how the beautiful landscaping the new owners had put in had ruined one of our neighborhood’s better football fields. Then between Mr. Still’s and Mr. Lowell’s house, God rest their souls, and I instinctively glanced over to be sure “Duke”, God rest his enormous canine soul, wasn’t loose and ready to give chase. Past Tim and Todd’s where I learned how to play baseball, Goula-style, past Charlie Frew’s house where the dreaded coffin corner yucca bush used to be, the Gray’s whose house I helped gut after the fire and finally to Jeff’s where I had a crab claw pried out of my heel in the house laid out identically to my own. I wanted to cross the bridge even though I’d not claimed that prerogative, but they tore it down and walled off the woods it led through long ago. So home again.
All I could think of on the return trip was how quiet the old neighborhood was, outwardly. All of the sidewalks were perfectly edged, each house sported thick, green lawns, no cars were being worked on in the driveways and no bikes were lying about and no kids to ride them. The old neighborhood has grown old. Yet the sounds of the street of the 1970’s and 80’s echoed palpably about me, though you wouldn’t have heard them, the arguments, the bouncing balls and even the muted murmur of exchanged confidences and plots. The old neighborhood, I became certain, remembers us boys.
Just before we got home a guy drove by us and waved, did a double take, then waved again, still not certain who he’d seen. He got the same reaction from me. “Was that Todd?”, I asked aloud to no one, half expecting the neighborhood to respond. The guy parked next to Todd’s Dad’s house and got out. He looked back up the street toward us and I started to wave but I waited a heartbeat longer than socially expected and so he looked away before I could. Didn’t matter, I thought, “dude’s like 40 something–way too old to be him.” I think the old neighborhood just grinned.