American Culture

Turn left, then right, then back in time

by Carole McNall

I hadn’t traveled that road in eight years.

Once, it was the path to home. I lived in three towns when I was a kid, but if you asked me to describe the home of my youth, it would be this street and that house. When I married Steve, my husband, and moved to this town, my definition of “home” broadened to include two communities, two streets and two houses.

Dad sold the house eight years ago. We — my brother and I — knew it was only a matter of time. The house became too big for him and Mom when Tom and I moved on to lives in other places and homes of our own. It became very much too big when Mom died and he was sharing that too-big space with nothing but memories. He lasted there almost exactly six years after she died, then found himself with a new relationship and the need for a different space.

I’d volunteered to be his lawyer for the house sale. I wanted to be the one to reassure him about things that had changed in the 40-plus years since he’d last sold a house. And maybe I realized that forcing myself into logical lawyer mode would also bring logic to the good-bye I was going to have to say to that house, that yard and yes, that street.

But realizing that does not, apparently, guarantee accepting it. I knew the new owner would make changes. I knew the tree where our dog once “guarded” our cat (we suspect he was the reason she was in the tree) would be history. I knew the new owners wanted to turn our one-family house into a two-family, and I knew they were planning to build a second house on the big yard that had helped sell the house to us.

I knew all that. But I didn’t need to see it in person.

And avoiding it was easy. The street is a short one, with just (today’s count) nine houses. It effectively dead ends at a small pond, although Tom and I knew the path that curved around the pond and rejoined one of the streets nearby.

I told Dad once that I hadn’t driven past the house since shortly after he sold it.

“Really?” He was both surprised and amused.

“Yep. It hasn’t been the right time. I’ll get there — the street’s not going anywhere.”

The street still hadn’t gone anywhere on a cold Saturday a few weeks ago. It was sitting there waiting for me as Steve and I left a memorial service for Dad.

“I think maybe I’m going to want to go down Kibler today,” I told him.

“Your call,” he replied.

“Left, please.” And we were driving down that street, passing those memories for the first time in eight years.

Had it changed? Ah, yes. The yard that used to house football games now has a parking area for the families in the original house. The apple tree I climbed before the house was even ours has vanished, another casualty of the need for parking. The new second house is pretty, but my mind’s eye wants trees and lawn and a driveway that snakes around a tree.

We drove most of the way to the pond before turning around and leaving the street. On a nearly last glance, I found one piece of my memories — a maple tree I’d planted from a seedling that sprouted on the corner where we waited for the bus. I nursed it into a spindly little tree, but it’s really alive today because of Dad. The first winter I was in college, the bunnies thought my tree looked like dinner. Dad foiled them — literally, by wrapping the trunk of the little tree so they took their bunny teeth to other places.

The new owners have left the maple tree in place. I’m grateful — that cold Saturday would not have been the time to discover they’d sacrificed that tree as well to new plans.

Since then, I’ve wondered why I was suddenly sure I needed to travel that road that day. I think it’s because that street and that town, like that house, became not-quite-home on a Friday night in September when Dad died. Maybe it was another of his many gifts — that I could finally look at the-place-that-was-home and say good-bye to its homeness. I suspect that somewhere he’s shaking his head and saying something like, “You finally drove by the house?”

I did, Dad. I’m not sure whether I’ll go back for another visit. But if I do, I’m likely to see you riding that bright red bike down the street or hear you telling me a story of your Army days as we sat in the kitchen of a house that’s no longer really there.

Carole McNall is a lawyer and an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at St. Bonaventure University.

3 replies »

  1. Wonderful reflection, Carole. I think about where I grew up. My grandparents (who raised me) are both long dead, as is my father, who lived a block away. Those are hard streets to drive down.

  2. I couldn’t finish it fast enough. Thank-you so very much for sharing. I find myself in your shoes and same hesitation the times I have driven to the lake and past Farmbrook. I don’t know why it feels like a taboo thing, driving by. I almost feel as though the home & memories have been unfaithful and not as loyal as I have been to them. I drove by in 2004…Jerod & I were up there in Nov, after a call telling us dad was in Elmira with a massive heart attack. I was mad the pool, that the entire family held together, literally, as dad went around to fasten, and the rose garden that took so much of dads time when I thought I had him for the day instead of Kodak…were gone. Most everything was replaced, newer, painted, remodeled….funny thing, the damn mailbox shaped as a white barn with a red door to open, was still on the same iron post. Of all things… I couldn’t help but laugh all the way out of the development. LOVE you!!