We all have memories of our childhood. Hopefully, more good ones than bad. And if you’re like me many of those memories are attached to where we have lived. The houses that cradled our family are still so strong in my mind.
The house where I was born and I grew up was my grandma’s big house in Washington, D.C. not far from Embassy Row. I remember running through the echoing high ceiling rooms, roller skating while holding onto the high iron fence, rummaging through the garbage out near the alleyway, and pushing the cat out the window to see if it could fly. (Oh, if I could only take that back!)
After the war and after my grandmother died we moved to an industrial town in south eastern Ohio. Our house in Steubenville was much smaller and not quite as grand as grandma’s big old mansion, but it was home and I have very fond memories of living there.
The square yellow house had a great big porch that ran the length of the front of the house with big fat balustrades and a high railing. Daddy put a porch swing at one end and mother filled the rest of the space with comfortable wicker furniture. This was the outdoor space in the summers where my brother and I and all of our friends would sit in the evenings and play canasta and laugh with our friends.
Mother filled the backyard with beautiful flowers along its borders and Daddy kept the deep green grass in the center mowed into a velvet carpet in the summer.
Now, the further the years take me away from that time in my life, the more I appreciate the days that I lived in that industrial south eastern town and the care that my parents put into that square box of a house filled with home cooked meals and family antiques.
My housing journey and the years that followed would comprise of New York City apartments, a house in the Pittsburgh suburbs, and finally a home on the shores of New Jersey where I have spent the last 42 years overlooking the beautiful Atlantic Ocean.
I have boxes on top of boxes. Boxes filled with photographs of my life in these houses of past days of living that I cherish.
They say you never can go home again. That is true. But in my case not only can I never go home again, but my houses are gone. Gone. Only in my photographs and in my memory do they exist.
My childhood home in Washington DC no longer is there. When I was in college I went back to visit my old home and it was nothing but a paved parking lot. The owners who bought the house from my father turned it into an apartment building. The tenants in the heart of Washington destroyed the building and it was eventually torn down. My pilgrimage was much too late.
The other day my cousin sent me pictures of my old home in that small industrial town that has suffered the closure of the steel mills and the businesses that were supported by the workers and the steel mills. And although it is still standing it has been torn apart into something of an old drunk, ravaged by wear and tear and hard living. Today the scenic hill overlooking the city that once was haven for all of us children and families has been turned into a ghetto. La Belle View now is anything but what its name visualizes. I didn’t even recognize it from the picture. The big porch was gone, the balustrades are no longer there and the verdant hedges lining the porch are gone and the sloping lawn that goes down to the street is grassless. The windows in the house have been changed to tiny slits like sad eyes looking out onto the deteriorating neighborhood.
I honestly wish I hadn’t seen those pictures. I didn’t want to destroy the wonderful memories I had of our beautiful house and velvet green lawn. Memories of wonderful neighbors and of my friends. And my grade school and church that have now disappeared forever, leveled to the ground for whatever reason. Gone.
One by one the childhood homes that have nurtured me have either disappeared or changed forever.
Last week I had an offer from someone who wanted to buy my New Jersey shore home. Their plans are to tear it down completely and start over and build a McMansion overlooking the ocean. Take a bulldozer and eat away at the windows and the high cathedral ceilings that have been my eyes to the outside world for all of these years. “No thank you,” I said. How much money will it take to erase my entire life’s living in homes that I have loved? To never be able to ever come back to any home that has ever given me Haven. I hate to think that that is the way I am going to walk off into the sunset.