My mom is on the phone. "I drove by the old house," she says. "You better go by there because it looks like they are going to move it off that land and build something else there. If you want to see it before it's gone, I would go soon."
I hang up the phone and try to process what she has just said. The home I grew up in? Gone? That very night I persuade my husband to drive with me over to the house, just to see. As we pull into the driveway in the failing light, there is a large piece of construction equipment blocking our way. We can only pull in so far. Our tires crunch over the gravel and stop. My husband cuts the engine and sits quietly, allowing me to look at the shell of the house that once was but is, clearly, no longer.
I try to take it in. The house is now sitting up on blocks and the red bricks have been removed. The carport has been peeled away and so has the front porch. It is a grotesque skeleton stripped of its flesh. I remember sweeping that porch for one of my chores. I played Little House on the Prairie and sang like Ma while I worked, pretending the broom was fashioned by my own hand from branches and pine needles. Every spring I would set bare feet on the gravel drive for the first time and wince with pain as the sharp rocks stung my tender feet, encased in shoes all winter and now-- finally-- free. My mom would say, "You just need to let your feet toughen up." And I would painstakingly make my way down the long gravel drive as many times as it took. By the end of summer, I was running shoeless without hesitation. A country girl, my father would proudly say.
I lived in that house many summers. Through elementary school and middle school. Through my parents' divorce and remarriages to other people. Through deaths of dogs and the birth of a little calf. I cooked my first meals in that kitchen and got my first call from a boy. Though I didn't know it then, the woman I am now was becoming in that house.
I sit in the car and quietly ask my husband if I can go in, just one more time. He says no. It's not safe. Though I know he is right, I can't believe I will never go inside that house again.
I have often dreamed I still live there. I dream of running through the pasture and playing in the woods. Dream of the sound of my horse, running by my window. Dream of my room with the purple and white checked curtains and the big bay window that was just perfect for sitting and dreaming and reading. Dreaming of who I would be and what I would become. Picturing the children I would someday have, the man who would one day love me forever. Realizing just how rare it is to find such a person.
And now he sits across from me in the car, unable to feel what I am feeling yet willing to sit quietly for as long as it takes. Giving me time to say goodbye. I am slightly embarrassed at my own grief. It is just a house, after all. A place I have not lived in for twenty years. And yet, I always counted on it being there. A touchstone. The place I came from. A place I could return to if ever I needed to.
Finally I say, "We can go now" and we silently back out of the driveway, hearing the gravel crunch one last time. I watch the dark shadow of the house until it slips from view. The next time I go by this place, I know, it will be gone.
Later, as he is telling me goodnight, my husband says, "They can't take away your memories." And I smile at him through tears, knowing he is right. As I fall asleep that night, I hold the memories close to me, counting them as some might count sheep or blessings. In my last few moments of wakefulness, I wish that I could go there just once more. To etch those places in my heart just a little deeper, to record it all in some indelible place untouched by age or change. I realize that the home I am falling asleep in is a place that will, for my children, be what that place is for me. It is the place where they are becoming; the place they will go back to physically and, more often, mentally. I want to help them record these memories of ours, keep them for someday when they are needed. So I can help these little pieces of my future get back to their past. I will hold out my hand and whisper, "Here, let me show you the way." And together we will go home.
*I wrote this for this.