Sometimes, though, my assignments hit a little too close to home. Like yesterday, when the story I was chasing brought me not only to the town where I grew up, but to the very street, not a quarter mile from our former family home.
Treading on such familiar territory was wrenching, since my roots there run deep, but nothing is left but memory since my mother died.
I’ve driven by the neat white ranch with the big picture window several times recently. It’s never easy to see other cars in the driveway or a new name on the mailbox. The small house that somehow held a family of seven was ours for 50 years. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.
Times change. People die. Families come and go. But the homes we live in as kids carry our memories, even when those we love are no longer with us. I can close my eyes today and remember even the tiniest details of our life on Pleasant Street.
Like the smell of fresh dryer sheets and Opium, my mother’s signature perfume. The kitchen radio always tuned to NPR. A worn, wooden cribbage board and cards awaiting players.
I can see the tender petals of pink and white dogwoods in full bloom, and hear my dad fill an ice bucket for a graduation party, and belt out hymns in the shower. I feel a warm breeze blow through the screens on the sun porch during a dusky summer dinner, throw tennis balls on the roof with my brother, and listen to rustling leaves high above on the branches of giant trees as I lie on my back on cool, green grass and stare at the clouds.
My parents and my oldest sister are settled now in a stately cemetery about two miles away from that house and the rest of us have long gone on our way. But there is still so much of us that remains.
Before we sold the house last year I spent a day digging up as many of my mother’s plants and bushes as I could and then planted them in my yard. I felt like it was one small way I could keep the memories alive.
Yesterday, as I drove by my childhood home I saw that the new family had left the rest of my mother’s flowers in the side yard. I imagine there are more out back. Soon they will be blooming, which made me glad that a bit of our history will be sustained in that house, and in that town, even long after the people who lived it are gone.