Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
My wife and I took a drive yesterday to Ravena, my hometown. The purpose was to look through my grandmother’s house for any mementos I might like, as the house is being prepared for sale. Raw, windy, chilly, it seemed the perfect atmosphere for this little soiree down memory lane.
But I’m ahead of myself. The reason my grandmother’s house is for sale is that her husband, the man she married ten years after my grandfather passed away, is no longer able to live in the house alone. His advanced age has made it impossible for him to be there, so he has gone to live with his children and the house is now the purview of my father and aunt. Hence the call to come down and look the house over, which we did, and, despite the ten years it’s been since I was there, it was surprisingly difficult.
Even driving to Ravena is interesting for me. It’s been nearly thirty years since I lived in the village. As we drove through town, past my old house, down Main Street, past the homes of my childhood friends, it was like a mist settled across my eyes. I was driving, but at the same time I was twelve riding my bike, or walking, or playing hide and seek some late summer night across those suburban back yards. I felt like I was simultaneously in two times, then and now, which made me a pretty horrible companion for my wife. She suffered pretty much in silence as I left many of her questions unanswered.
When we got to the house I was able to navigate a bit better, but not a whole lot. It sounds whiny and weird, but every spot in that house was filled with memories for me. The tiny kitchen where my dad and I would eat our lunch of fried Spam sandwiches and homemade lemonade with my grandmother after we mowed her lawn on muggy summer days, the stairs to the basement where my grandfather would lay in wait to surprise me when we came to visit, the musty basement where my train set lived because we didn’t have space in the five room flat I grew up in, the eight track stereo and their collection of Elvis eight-track tapes, these all were alive for me as I walked through the house. The big backyard was no better, as thoughts of our family garden and nights of hunting lightening bugs came to life again as I stood staring out the back door. And those were just some of the major things. The countless afghans she crocheted and knick knacks she collected, the smells and textures of that little bungalow at the lonely end of a small town street, all hit me harder than I expected them to. Sad, happy, nostalgic, the full range of emotion was met. So much of who I am today has its foundations in that place, and I guess I hadn’t thought too much about it until now. Now, now that the place will be sold and I won’t ever be able to walk through it, now it hits home.
So much of who we are comes from where we started. T.S. Eliot said, in “East Coker” ( I love the Four Quartets!) “In my beginning is my end,” and I think he’s right. When it’s all said and done, what are we but the sum total of our experiences? The culmination of our interactions with the world, seen aslant through the lenses of our perceptions? So my walk through those rooms was like, in many ways, going back to where it all started to look at how I came to be who I am today. A mental journey designed to confirm or reveal the origins of this forty six year old psyche. Which is, undoubtedly, a bit dramatic, but, damn, it sure felt like that.
As we drove home after our two hours in Ravena, I couldn’t help but feel another link to my past was being severed- time’s invariable casting off or casting free, depending on how you look at it. I guess this is how it works, right? The long farewell. But it’s not all sadness. No, there’s a comfort found in middle age, when all of these goodbyes seem to start happening, that allows me to look at these treasures of my past and tuck them away and know that, despite all of the hullaballoo and frenzy of growing up, that I will always carry the long summer nights and lightening bug hunts in my soul, and that I can travel there and relive them whenever I want to. It has to be that way. There’s no other choice except forgetting, and I won’t do that.
In the end I took a picture, a blanket, and a candy dish my grandmother served chocolate non pareils in at Christmas time. But I left with much more.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
© 2015, Brian Stumbaugh. All rights reserved.