I gave the Uber driver the address and as we drove we chatted about his country (Nepal) and the custom of arranged marriages and the movie “Blinded by the Light.” The time flew and before we knew it, he was slowing to a stop.
“Is this the house?” He asked.
“No, this is not the house, but this is the address. There was another house. I lived here… there. Once.”
“Once” is the siren call from the confluent depths of memory and story. The past suddenly becomes the guest of an ordinary moment.
We both stared at the looming construction. I explained the house of my childhood had been sold and torn down. He seemed more upset by this than I was, but then he couldn’t see what I could see. He couldn’t feel what I could feel. I described the apple orchards that once stood on the farm behind our house. They were next to the stable that housed our neighbor’s horse. Once.
I told him how the doors were never locked and how we never knocked or rang a doorbell as we went into each other’s houses. We climbed backyard fences and took shortcuts across yards of people we didn’t know. I described the way our fathers stood in Izod shirts and madras shorts and drank martinis and turned hamburgers in the wafting smell of charcoal. Our mothers, in pastel shirtwaist dresses or coulottes or pedal pushers, swayed with babies on their hips as toddlers splashed in baby pools, while we gathered sticks to roast marshmallows.
Our summer birthdays were celebrated at picnic tables with cake and Neopolitan Ice Cream slices. On a summer night, beyond the trees you could hear the high school marching band practice. Screen doors slammed, unstable metal swing sets creaked well into the night, as did the grown-up sound of low laughter in face of life that was mid-century modern. The Uber driver, not quite dry eyed, left and I stood in the shadow of “Once.”
Eventually the swings became still. The swing sets were removed. We moved our fun indoors and the sixties gave way to the seventies. We had parties in the basements that had been presciently called rumpus rooms in the sixties. We went off to college. Or didn’t. There were showers and backyard weddings in the very spot we had written our names in the air with sparklers. Before long we came back and our children spilled out of cars; they grew up as their grandparents grew old. Like the swing sets that once stood in backyards, the houses on that street began to still. Before long, the houses were sold and sometimes torn down. They were replaced with houses that were much bigger. I looked at the house being built on the spot that my siblings and I once stood for prom pictures. It is going to be a much bigger house. But looking at the house I didn’t feel the loss or sorrow that the Uber driver expected me to feel. I felt hope for the people who would live there and uttered a silent prayer for them. Their house was being built on a foundation, now invisible, upon which I still stand. Their house will be much bigger and I hope they will find living there every bit as grand.
Last Thursday, I went to visit the new third grade teacher at Fox, Miss Eck. Her classroom is Room 204. She has created a wonderful environment. Her room — inviting, purposeful, and organized — is a true invitation to learning. Miss Eck was welcoming to me and it was a pleasure to see the space I’d loved given a new lease. Miss Eck has words on a bulletin board that say, “In this classroom you are loved.” I felt such joy standing in what is now her classroom and thought about the lucky children who would have her as a teacher. It was not unlike the feeling I had as I looked at the new construction at my old address. The feeling is hope for the future and gratitude for the past and a deep impulse to bless the moment and the space. There is a threshold between “Once” and “Someday.” We all stand there together. The threshold is Now. And it is every bit as grand.
Love this, Annie!
What a great foundation. I hope the family does feel it and “Get It”.
I love this piece, especially the vocabulary of fashion—coulottes, shirtwaist, pedal pushers.