Saturday, April 19, 2014

Going Home Again

Lately I've been listening to a song entitled, "The House That Built Me, " sung by country artist, Miranda Lambert. The lyrics speak of a woman who has a yearning to return once more to the home of her childhood and it starts out with her on the front steps asking the (now) owner of the home if she can go in and walk around.  She hopes that by touching and feeling the place, "this emptiness inside me might start healing" and continues to recall memories of her bedroom, her daddy building it by hand and a favorite dog buried under the oak tree out front.  As is my sappy practice, when I find a song I love, I play it two hundred times, sing along, shed tears and get all introspective. This time was no different.

I was raised in Kalihi at 1412 Kamehameha IV Road, in (what I believed then to be) a large, two-story home that was full of great places to hide, lots of neat stuff and a yard that wrapped around it on three sides.  Two large glass plane windows upstairs looked out on the small street and provided an ideal place to display a Christmas tree or watch the lights of neighboring KPT turn on every evening.  It is the only home I lived in as a child and one that lingers in my memories and heart until today.  In fact, it is the only house that I ever dream of, even as a grown woman.  None of the dwellings, including the home I own today, have made it's way into my dreams, go figure? Ironically, the home that my husband and I purchased 10 years ago is only one street over from the famous Parker house. And yet, I rarely drive or walk past it, perhaps deliberately.

So today, as I decided to take an early morning walk around the neighborhood, I found myself drawn to 1412.  I stood gazing at it across the street, at first, and after a moment's hesitation, walked over to stand in it's driveway.  An older Filipino man was in the garage cleaning out his car and he didn't notice me at first.  I took in as much as my eyes could behold-so many changes-the color of the house, new fencing, another set of stairs, a cement driveway, dogs in the yard (something grandma would never allow, though we tried to sneak animals in once or twice). And everything looked so much. . .smaller.

"Can I help you?", the man asked.

"I just wanted to take a look at the house, I grew up here", was my reply.

"Yeah, ok", and he returned to his task.

Hmmm, maybe he didn't hear me. "I was raised here, lived here for over 20 years and I just wanted to see the place."

"Yes, well good morning to you, then", he replied with an irritated tone.

Hmmm, this wasn't quite working out the way I'd hoped. What did I expect? An invitation to come in and walk around, shoot the breeze about the family that lived here two decades ago?

"How long have you lived here?", I tried again. 

At this point, he gave up trying to clean his car, figuring I wasn't going to leave him alone until he engaged in conversation with me. "Four years," he finally said.

A young boy peeked down at us from the big window upstairs, just like I used to when someone came to visit.  We talked for a couple minutes and he asked where my family was and I said that my parents and grandparents had passed and he told me, "rich or poor, everyone dies one day, yeah?".  I nodded and told him there were so many changes and asked if I could touch the garage wall. He obliged and I reached my fingers out, expecting to feel the familiar rough texture of the cement blocks that I'd leaned against a thousand times and found it had been replaced by a hollow wall.

I looked at the unkempt yard, once the pride and joy of my grandmother, a woman who arose at the crack of dawn and returned at dusk to water and tend to her beloved plants. I could picture the bird of paradise and torch ginger, the array of plumeria trees bearing pink, white and yellow flowers. I recalled the banana and papaya trees, the bushes and shrubs and the magnificent mango tree in the back which was aptly named "King". King was a haven for birds, the bearer of hundreds of juicy mangoes every season, the temptation of every housing kid who tried to steal his succulent fruit, the provider of numerous climbing adventures and a shelter for the many children who played in it's shade, year in and year out.

The memories fluttered around me and I spoke to the worn, old structure in my mind.

"It's me", I whispered, "I've come back to visit you, I never forgot you. I dream about you all the time.  Do you remember how my brothers and sisters and I used to make a racket running up and down the stairs? How clean mom kept you? How wonderful it smelled when she baked biscuits from scratch and cakes for our birthdays and turkeys at Thanksgiving?"

"Do you remember the hand-made coconut goblets that lined the dining room walls that my grandpa made? And the huge dinner table that I'd hide under when I was scared or the giant bed in grandpa's room that he built, too?  Can you recall all the many, many people who walked up the front stairs to visit, celebrate, talk story and seek shelter over the years? Do you remember how loud grandma cried when she found out my dad died? And how many books he had in his bedroom? And how we all slept together in one room for the longest time? And how we played war games at night in the yard and climbed over the fence to play with the neighbors and jumped off the back wall? Can you still hear the music we played and the songs we sang, the late night talks and bursts of laughter ringing through the house? Do you know that you were a refuge, a hang out for our friends and a 'second home' to so many others? Do you remember the rites of passage-the first kisses and newlyweds who needed a place to start out and the newborns that grew and crawled down these halls? Do you remember?".

I've always believed that houses have a spirit and hold the memories and energy of it's family and I wondered about the new inhabitants. Did they ever hear the echoes of the family who made this house a home? Did this big old house keep their secrets, as well? Could it possibly love them as it did us?

As I caressed the hollow garage wall, I found myself feeling that very thing. . .empty. It was as if this new wall and that new fence and those new plants in the yard had no concept of all that took place before and it felt like the spirit that used to live here had. . .gone, just as we had.  Now I know that sounds crazy and perhaps I am.  Maybe I expected too much, maybe I hoped too much, or maybe I just. . .moved on.

I thanked the old man and headed back home. . .home to a single-story house with a big glass window where my dog appears, barking madly whenever I return.  Home to my son in the front driveway riding his bike, to my husband in the office and my in-laws watching television, to my Filipino neighbors who greet me cheerfully.  And I know that the four walls and roof that houses my family, wherever that may be through the years, is the place that I will consider home and it will hold new memories. . .but the house, and the family, and the neighborhood, and the friends, and the childhood that built me will always, always live in my heart. . .and most likely, in my dreams. 

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