“I know they say, you can’t go home again, I just had to come back one last time…”
Country-music superstar Miranda Lambert made these lyrics famous on the Billboard Country Music Charts when the song “The House that Built Me” peaked at #1 and won several awards including “Song of the Year,” among others. I decided that for Loco Magazine’s Nostalgic Issue, I would take a walk back to the house that built me and see how I would feel, what would happen, and if it was truly possible to be connected to four walls, a ceiling, and floor structure.
I remember the day well. It was cold – well, cold for the Spring day that it was. A cool, brisk morning in late March. I was dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt with sunglasses sitting atop my head. I thought I was going to need them, but the rain had just decided to fall from the sky in a downpour-like fashion. I drove the approximate 2.3 miles from my downtown apartment to the little twin house that I used to live in as a child. My parents, brother, and I had moved shortly after my brother was born into a new and bigger house on the opposite side of town (though only minutes away.) As I pulled into the stone parking lot across the street, I sat in my car for a minute – just enough time to breathe and think. Should I turn back and walk away? Should I knock on the door? Who had owned the home after my parents? Were they young, old, did they smoke, or speak English, were they going to understand why I was there and let me in, or would they shut the door in my face and and call the police? I took another deep breath and exited out of the car, locking it before I had a chance to turn back.
I tried to knock, but missed the door completely, and instead the family dog, a black lab, had noticed me and began barking, alerting his/her owners of my appearance. I was about to turn around when the door opened. A young, slender woman in her mid-thirties, looked at me with her head cocked to one-side and asked: “Can I help you?” I looked at her, kind of dumbfounded, lifted up my college-ruled notebook (as if that should have explained my presence) and said, “Hi, my name is Ashley. I am a student at Arcadia University, and I write for Loco Magazine.” She blinked: “Okay…” I continued, “Well, we are doing a Nostalgic issue, and I used to live here and was wondering if I could walk inside for just a few minutes and see what, if anything, I can remember about living here…?”
There — we stood — facing each other in the silence. There — we studied each other until a little boy who could not have been more than about three-years-old, and who I assumed was her child, came up to her and said, “Mommy, who is it? Who is that Mommy?” She could have easily said, “no one,” and shut the door in my face, but she didn’t. Instead the young woman in front of me stepped back and allowed me to enter her home.
I walked about as far as the living room couch before the memories came rushing back. My pet fish (eel) named slinky, my Uncle Lenny visiting when he came home on leave from the Army, a spoon collection my dad started for me from various places around the country and world, and holding my little brother for the first time when mom brought him home from the hospital. I was all of four-years-old, wearing my “I’m a Big Sister” shirt and missing about six teeth – and that meant the world to me — and was one of the most defining moments in my life.
While in the kitchen, I noticed the skylight and remembered the numerous times as a child that my ceiling would drip water when it would thunderstorm late at night. I remember looking up at it on clear summer nights and seeing the stars, shining brightly in the sky. The window looking out into the yard above the sink was where my mom used to monitor me playing on the swingset and would call me in when it was time for dinner.
In the basement, I remembered how fragile the washer and dryer were and how only mom could use them correctly. I could easily picture the wooden walls of the playroom my dad had built for me and exactly where my toy boxes, kitchen set, and play “coffee maker” used to be.
Straight up the stairs was a bedroom that at first glance was painted blue and had a racecar bed (I’m assuming for the little boy who appeared by my side, the little boy from downstairs.) I sat down onto the soft, white carpet and felt it – the panic and fear and happiness and nostalgia that I was not sure I would be able to feel. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I remembered having my room painted bright bubblegum pink, and having a closet full of shoes. I remembered loving the movie Sleeping Beauty and hating Peter Pan, because I was scared of Captain Hook. I even changed the position of my bed to be away from the window, because I was scared he would come charging in at night. I remembered being three years old, alone in my room, and playing dress-up with my imaginary friend, “Lena.” I tried on outfit after outfit for what seemed like forever before my mom came up the stairs and quietly observed from the crack in my bedroom door. She smiled softly and opened the door a little bit wider. She asked what I was doing, and I replied that I was dressing up like a princess. She told me that when I grew up I could be anything I wanted to be. I remembered my childhood – the beginning of what made me, me, and I cried. I cried until I smiled from the memories and my forgetfulness of moments that had meant so much to me.
I did not go much further through the house – for one, the only other rooms were the young woman and her husband’s bedroom and the bathroom, and for two, I had gotten what I needed. I came for a story, but I left with memories I did not even realize I ever had or could still remember. While I realize that these memories could have happened anywhere….they happened here — in a little twin house in the center of a one-horse town. They happened here, in the house that built me.