Not long ago, my childhood home went on the market. My family had moved out and sold it decades ago, while I was in college, so any emotions that go along with moving on from one’s childhood home were dealt with long ago.
Or … were they? I wanted to see what had changed in my childhood home since my family lived in it, so I attended an open house. I think most of us would do the same, if given the chance.
My first impression, taken in after the Realtor heard my story and graciously stepped away to let me roam, was that the house had not changed much. The first floor common rooms held the same carpet/wood floor combination, which made it easy for me to go back to the days when I regularly avoided a fiery fate by stepping only on the wooden portions. The carpet was lava, you know. Or sometimes alligator-infested swamps, depending on my mood.
In my mind, I jumped from the edge of the staircase, clinging to the banister until the last possible second so that I’d have enough falling momentum to reach the wooden strip of flooring against the opposite wall. Safe. From there, I followed the wooden strip until I reached the couch, which put me within distance of the brick hearth of the fireplace. Safe again. But ahead of me was my old nemesis, still taunting me, the vast expanse of carpet stretching between the hearth and the wooden dining room floor. In the old days, I threw a couch pillow one the floor and utilized that (I was nothing if not resourceful as a kid), but even in my imagination, I couldn’t bring myself to break faith with the goodwill of my present-day host.
With a shudder, I stepped onto the carpet and crossed into the dining room, and from there, into the kitchen. So many important things happen in kitchens. Big news was often broken to us at the kitchen table. Family vacation plans were revealed there, as well as whispers of beloved grandparents falling ill. I could still see the mundane, too, such as long slogs through homework while my parents cooked dinner, occasionally looking over my shoulder to see if they could help or, at the very least, prod me back into action. I often listened to lectures at the kitchen table, when I’d done wrong and had to be straightened out. Of course, that often happened at the living room couch, too … and my bedroom …
So many rooms hold memories of getting in trouble, I realized. Isn’t that just the way of childhood?
On the second floor, the built-in bedroom wall closets, which felt absolutely palatial as a child, were smaller than I remembered. In my memories, I built huge forts in those closets, with furniture, stuffed animal friends, and each end a different room. Impossible. I must have had some imagination back in those days.
I pondered if I’d still be able to stretch the phone cord from the hallway into the bathroom. I used to sit on a foot stool next to the sink and talk on the phone to boys. Apparently in my mind, the bathroom door was more soundproof than my bedroom door. Or, more probably, farther from my parents' room. I looked in the hallway. No more phone outlet.
The bluestone basement had been refinished, so the weird little rooms and hiding places were gone, but the steep, creaky back staircase still felt perilous to descend, so that felt comfortingly familiar. In the yard, our rhubarb patch was gone, as was the tree I once loved to climb, but the window wells I once used as “dressing rooms” for costume changes during the many plays put on in the backyard were still the original structures. They, for some reason, still seemed huge in ways the closets did not. I could still visualize a child hanging a costume shirt at the edge, jumping in and imagining it as a vast room where they could ready themselves for their upcoming act.
I could write an entire book of these memories, all stemming from an hour-long visit made almost three decades after the last time I’d stepped foot inside. Some are good, some are bad (seriously, did I get in that much trouble?), but they all made me into who I am today. It’s good to revisit them once in a while.
I’m slightly envious of the people who recently moved in, even though I recognize that I’m now making similar memories in my present house. There’s just something special about the home where one was raised. It is rarely far from my mind. Though it's unlikely the new residents of my childhood home will recognize their home in my ramblings, I’d like to pass on a tip regardless: The alligators appear only in the hot summer months, but unlike lava, they can follow you onto the wooden parts of the floor. So step lively, and don’t linger.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. Write to her at email@example.com.