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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…