Can we go home again?

Tomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again” and after my trip to Michigan last month the literal meaning of that title hit me hard. If you have been following my story, you know I grew up in a small town in Michigan. In August I flew home to go to my sister Janet’s memorial service.

It was a somber trip dotted with memory lane moments and visits with old friends and family. I stayed at my sister Linda and her husband George’s 40-acre country home and we spent a lot of time sitting on her porch chatting.

Looking back at Linda’s house from the blueberry patches

On the day of the memorial, we headed towards Lake Michigan to join our family for Janet’s service. As I sat in the passenger seat looking out at the countryside rolling by, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic.

We passed one place in particular and I did a double-take. Linda said that was the home we first lived in when our family moved back from California when I was just two.

That was the home I can recall my very first memories of what “home” was.

I wanted to stop right then to look around, but we had other business to attend to, so I made note of where the house was so I could revisit it.

The next day I borrowed my sister’s car and set out down memory lane. My first stop was the house that I lived in for such a brief time in my childhood. I kept my distance so I wouldn’t disturb the new tenants, but managed to get a few photos and a feel for the place.

The house in Ferry that I lived in when I was 2
We can work together to change our Rape Culture from #MeToo to #NotUs
This photo was taken on the porch at that house!
I loved the old barn at the house in Ferry

Leaving there I traveled on to Hart to hunt down the farmhouse I grew up in.

I had to hunt because there is no longer an address for the old place. I knew that years ago it was turned into a barn but figured I’d be able to find it.

After several passes by, I parked close to where I thought it was and walked the road to find our little farm. Everything about it was different, so much so that I thought I might have the wrong place.

Widening the road took up a big chunk of the once long driveway. The big old black walnut tree was no longer there and the house was almost completely taken over by nature.

Going home
I could hardly see the place through the overgrowth

My heart pounded as I walked around the back and found my way inside. The kitchen and bathroom were completely gone with only chicken wire stalls remaining.

The old kitchen

As I stepped up into what was left of the house, I recognized my parents’ bedroom. It looked as if someone had used the abandoned place as a party house and when I walked around the corner to the old living room my heart caught in my chest and I was disoriented.

What was my parents’ room

Could this place really be our old home?

It was tiny! How in the world did all of us live there? I saw where the freestanding furnace used to be and the charred remains where it must have caught fire at some point.

The big French doors that I remembered from my childhood were not there at all. It dawned on me at that moment that the memory of those doors was from the other house and not the one I was standing in.

I turned and looked at the stairs I had fallen down more than once. In my child’s mind, they were immense and menacing but in front of me now was a small set of steps leading to nowhere.

I remembered there being at least 30 more steps!

Someone had put a sheet of plywood over the top of the steps and I couldn’t get up to see the bedroom my sister Janet and I grew up in. For some reason, it was important to me to see that room, so I went up a couple of steps and pushed as hard as I could.

I was able to push the board up just enough to see the window and our tiny bedroom. Memories of Janet and I in that room came flooding back.

I took this photo with my phone while holding up the plywood as best I could

Shaking, I left the house to go outside.

I climbed the hill behind the house, as I had done countless times as a child, in hopes of finding any recognition of the past. The old grapevines were still there barely producing any fruit.

I used to pick huge bunches of grapes for my lunchbox every fall

When I turned back and looked at the house, I felt such sadness. Standing there looking down at our old farmhouse, it hit me just how poor we truly were. The house I grew up in wasn’t even worthy of saving it was so small and insignificant.

Our poor old farmhouse…
Where there was once a garden
No more garden, just milkweed for the butterflies

I took a few more photos and walked back to the car feeling empty. The childhood memories I had hoped to reexperience didn’t fit with the rundown shack that I just walked through.

Hoping to find what I was looking for I turned the car towards Silver Lake.

To be continued…

Reader Comments

  1. Donna GL4myage

    Glad you have good memories . But you have such great adventures in California
    The could we go home… doesn’t pertain to me my mother still lives in the same house I grew up in 5 minutes from me now. My grandmothers house my aunts live in still today Nothing has changed. I’m in my house 39 years.. 🤷🏼‍♀️ A lot of folks would think that’s kinda Boring

    • Loretta Sayers
      Loretta Sayers

      Thank you, Donna! I do love my life with John in California. It was so strange seeing the house I grew up in like that. There must be something so comforting about going to visit your mother and seeing the house you grew up in still loved and lived in. Xx

  2. Juliet

    I’m often struck by home small my mother and grandmother’s homes look now compared with my big memories. It makes me sad to see them in disrepair, but at the same time comforting to know they still stand. And, I’m still drawn to them. Our relationship with our past is complicated and emotions run the gamut. I look forward to your continuing story. And, again, I’m terribly sorry for your loss necessitating this trip home. xo

    • Loretta Sayers
      Loretta Sayers

      Thank you, Juliet. Our memories are so big as children and it is comforting to be able to go back and see our childhood homes…except in this case, of course. I love what you said about “our relationship with our past is complicated and emotions run the gamut.” Oh so true!
      Xx

  3. Nancy

    Well written!

    Hugs to you… I can’t even imagine what you were feeling. I’m glad it was still there for you to see… but yet… it had to be hard as well. Do you know who may own the property now?

    Sending hugs!

    • Loretta Sayers
      Loretta Sayers

      Thank you, Nancy. I really appreciate that. It was hard to see it, but I’m glad I went. It will most likely not even be there next time I go back. I don’t know who owns it now. Most of it is in cherry orchards now. Xx

  4. Rebecca

    I’m glad you did it. So wonderful looking at my friend’s childhood. Charly and I need to do this for his childhood. Before he was 8. I have seen the home he grew up in after he was 8, but we need to visit his true childhood home.

  5. Kim Cook

    Wow, I was already teary today and this just put me over the edge. It got me to thinking about all the places I have lived be a child of a Marine. I am so sorry for the loss of your sister. I am glad to see you smiling me these past couple of day.

    Kim

    • Loretta Sayers
      Loretta Sayers

      Kim, thank you for stopping by and reading my post. I’m sorry you are teary-eyed today! My granddaughters are Navy kids and have already moved so many times, so I get it.
      This summer was a rough one, and it does feel good to “feel like smiling” again. Xx

  6. Linda

    Such a bittersweet journey for you. I have very happy memories of my childhood home. It was kept in our family until very recently when we sold it. I do not go back to Ohio any more. My life is in Florida now. I pray you received peace and some small sense of closure during your visit.

  7. Amy Kennedy

    Oh Loretta,
    I am so sorry for the hurt and the heartache… and yet I am so glad you walked up and went inside and climbed those stairs and pushed back the barricade… It is a testament to your courage, to peeling back all kinds of layers even ones grown over with years of being closed up and hidden away. Kind of a metaphor for shields down. And It honored the memories that you and your sisters had. The grapevines will produce fruit again. One day, someone is going to see that place and have a new vision for it, and it will be a lovely new adventure and a sparkle in someone’s eye. Just as new adventures now await you two thousand miles away.

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