I’m sitting on the bed in the bedroom of the house I grew up in. It’s not my bed, not the original one that was here when I still lived here. At some point Mom thought it a good idea to replace my mine with this one instead. It’s a double with a brass headboard and it’s pretty comfortable, but it’s not my bed. My bed was a twin with a dark wood headboard that matched the rest of the furniture in my room.
Long ago, my room was semi-converted into both a sewing room and an office. Mom used it for my dad’s business payroll and books after I graduated from college and stopped coming back so frequently. It’s pretty cluttered now. There are piles of paperwork everywhere.
A few echoes of 18 years long past are still here. In my closet is the sneaker-shaped air freshener from Avon, the contents of which have never been changed. I suspect it no longer freshens the air as designed.
The framed picture of a clown I drew in second grade is still framed on the wall. My artwork was autographed by our state representative and for it I won a blue ribbon in the county fair. It’s a true piece of Americana. Further down the wall is the spot I sprayed my first can of silly string. I left the foam there for a month, and the wallpaper was stained a faint blue from the sticky goo that remained.
In the dresser is a box of cassette tapes. I remember a few broken fragments from a song or two of the tapes left. It’s about all I ever remember of any given song, but it’s enough that I’ll take the tapes for a listen on the drive back to Indiana.
It has been three years since the last time I was here and even then it was only for an afternoon. I came to town after our yearly Christmas ski trip to buy my Mom’s Trailblazer from Dad. We stopped at the house only long enough for my dad to get the paperwork for the sale. It was nine months since I had been there the previous time.
Before we moved to Indiana, we were only two and a half hours away. I was the closest of our parents three kids, but I failed to bring my family to visit for that entire time. I realized this only when when my eldest told me he couldn’t remember what the house looked like. Our youngest, 6 this month, didn’t remember it at all. He was excited to see my room… the place I used to keep my stuff.
The stuff and clutter presently reminds me of lazy summer afternoons growing up. After the 45-minute return drive from the closest real mall, I’d retreat to my room with the latest cassette or book I had purchased. Because I had a new thing, it required that I rearrange my entire room finding new locations for my old stuff just to give the new stuff its privileged placement on the bookshelf. It was a silly ritual, but one I relished each time.
Other rooms at the house have taken over to clutter. When Mom was alive, she kept Dad’s study at bay by tasking him when the piles started to creep elsewhere. Honestly, though, she was a collector too. Both their things have accumulated in the house filling the spaces where my sisters and I once ran free through the halls. It occupies the places in the basement where we raced toy shopping carts and baby buggies in the dark with our little flashlights as headlights. Only my sisters’ rooms have escaped unscathed. It’s only so because of my sisters diligent visits and preventative cleanings.
I guess I always figured I could visit anytime. Being so close allowed me to convince – or lie to – myself that I would visit anytime. Each weekend passed, and soon an immense amount of time went by without our visiting Grandpa. Instead, he would come to Appleton and see the kids on birthdays or other significant events. So I didn’t visit.
It wasn’t until today that I realized why I never came. Why I did not want to be here, a stranger in the place I once lived.
I think it is the ghosts.
In each room of our house, I see the ghost of my mom… she wrote notes to herself and they are tacked everywhere. She left slips of paper stuck to boxes reminding her to leave them where they were. Bits of scripture reminding her of her faith are taped to lamps and on the cabinets. Even four years later, my dad hasn’t removed them. I think it reminds him of her. To me, it’s like a ghost – an afterimage of her.
About a year before my mom died, my grandfather had a stroke from which he never recovered. It was at my parents’ house, too, during our Thanksgiving celebrations. I remember the last moments with him. He held his first blood-grandson on his lap for a few minutes. I thought of taking some pictures, but we were enjoying the moment, and I didn’t want to get the camera from upstairs. It turned out to be the last time he’d hold our youngest son. My grandfather went to take a nap, and before long, he started to complain of a massive headache. Not long after we called the ambulance and he was rushed to the hospital. Two weeks later he passed away.
I know this post has taken a depressing turn, but the memories I’m filled with at my parents’ are so strong. Most of them are very good. Our family laughed together often, especially with my grandfather and other relatives. The immediate family always ate dinner together at the round table we used to have in the kitchen, each kid in age order around the table. My Mom made simple foods, but we always thought it was delicious.
All in all, I’m reminded of all of those good memories, but they are tempered by the hole left our lives by those who have already moved on.