The homes we grew up in live in our memories, and have a life beyond them, too. Here’s a true pilgrimage to a childhood home story, and what was found there.
People will tell you “You can’t go home again.”
In a way, they’re right. What was once home will never be “home” again. You’ve changed, it’s changed, time’s passed, and that’s the way life goes. But you can go back whence you came. You can embrace that change, celebrate that passage of time, and why not? You’ve earned it.
That’s why, before wheels picked up and I left my life behind to travel the world as a digital nomad, the last thing I did was to visit my childhood home. I wrote about it for BuildDirect Blog: Life At Home a while back in the story called The House That Built Me.
Times have changed for good reason
I prepared myself for changes, massive changes, because more time had passed with me not living in the home than the time spent growing up there. My mother sold it when I was 16, so the family lived there less than 18 years. The woman living there now has been there 19 years, and there were five years where it was in the hands of other folks.
I remarked in my earlier blog post about how much I loved the new window and roof trim, that, it being wider, was more stately and correct in proportion to the size of the home. Mary, the lovely woman who owns it now, told me there had been a surprising reason for that development – the house was being consumed by carpenter ants. Everything had been compromised.
She was faced with the prospect of doing a total teardown and rebuild, or completely gutting the exterior. She decided she loved the “bones” of the home and removed all the siding and did it over again.
My childhood home is redefined
But whatever the exterior changes were, it couldn’t have prepared me for how drastically the interior had changed. The living room, sunroom, and kitchen had the walls torn down in between, making one sprawling living area with a massive kitchen my mother would have loved, and redefining the area I largely grew up in.
Gone was the den space we found the Atari 500 computer set up in one Christmas morning. Relegated to history was the Franklin stove we’d sit around on cold winter nights. A thing of the past was the wall I’d once had a hat collection of 50-plus hats hanging on, everything from a Greek Fisherman’s cap through to a Canadian naval officer’s dress cap.
And my bedroom? Not the commanding huge center of the universe I’d once thought it was. My jaw dropped when I realized how small it really was. Smaller than any bedroom I’d had since then – by half! But, as a child, I thought it was the best place on the planet, and all mine. It was where I read stories of travel and adventure, where I dreamed of a life with no boundaries. Today, it’s where Mary makes her living. A nice size for a small home office.
The fine details endure
I was surprised how happy I was to see some of the doorknobs still in use. I recognized some of the doors, too. Even the gaudy old 1970s doorbell was still in place. For me, it was enough that parts of my heritage remained intact.
In other ways, I was really happy that Mary had found that our world could be transformed into an existence that has been worth her spending more than 33% of her life living. I’d hate to see what my dad would feel like if he ever learned that the home he sweated more than a year to build from scratch, or that he modified with love and attention for years to come, had been torn down. I’d be gutted and I didn’t even build the thing.
A tribute to my dad’s craftsmanship
Today, it’s a tribute to his craftsmanship and his passion that, despite an infestation of carpenter ants, despite the craziness of having hosted a childcare center for a few years – which destroyed the parquet flooring I loved – much of the home is at least recognizable to me.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel, seeing the house that built me having become The House of Someone Else, but it made me happy to know Mary has had a wonderful life there. Both my parents loved that house, but once my dad was done building it, it was mostly up to my mom to choose the décor theme and to do all the fancy stuff that redefined it during our years there.
I’d like to think her and Mary would’ve gotten along like two peas in a pod. Both of them saw the house as a living, breathing thing that should change and improve with time. Both of them saw it as a framework rather than a finite project. Both loved art, colour, and transformation.
Glad I went back
In the end, I’m glad I went back. I know some people get really depressed when everything changes, but I guess I’m not one. Having been through a variety of adversities and tough times in life, the one thing that consoles me is that life never stands still, and time doesn’t either.
Here’s to Mary for opening the door and letting me in. It was a great way to bid farewell to a large part of the place that grew me up into this girl who’s now homeless and a world-traveller. I hope it helps shapes dreams and lives for decades to come.