The house looks smaller than I remembered. I can see tarpaper under some of the broken roofing tiles. The driveway’s crumbling shoulders and huge cracks running through the asphalt are big enough to swallow the yellow Corvair my dad once parked under the carport. Dingy, colorless vinyl siding covers the original stone façade. Looking around at the other homes on the street, the whole neighborhood seems sad and tired.
I try to tune out the constant chatter of the perky listing agent who hasn’t stopped talking since we left her office. Clipboard in hand, she ticks off features of the house and property, but I’m already familiar with the shortsale single-family, ranch on Mockingbird Lane.
When I was very young, my family lived here. I used to hike the mountain that rose up behind the house. At least in my gradeschool memory it was a mountain. Walking around the old place now, that mountain has dwindled considerably.
The backyard holds no remnants of the rabbit hutch where Daisy was kept, nor of the swing set where I learned to fly and fall with style. A porch, drab and in disrepair, isn’t part of my memories, but I can still smell the perfume from the lilac bush it replaced. I remember there being more climbing-size trees and not the towering oaks growing there today.
Continuing my reminiscence tour, I look to the side yard – the one running parallel to the highway. Where the red clay pit used to be, the one where my friends and I craved out earth thrones and rock castles, a laundromat and tackle shop has displaced our muddy realm.
The agent looks puzzled when I chuckle at the memory of an hour-long scrub after returning home covered head to toe in ochre loam, and the inch of silt left in the bottom of the tub after I was finally clean.
The asking price for the house is well below market, and tempting. We were intact in this house. Two parents, two children, one dog, the typical American census definition of Family. Of all my phases of childhood, these memories are the clearest, or at least, I’ve convinced myself they are real recollections and not just wishful thinking.
I wonder at the decline of the neighborhood. Residents moving to the city, are simply leaving homes to decay. A declining market sometimes means it’s easier to take the loss than infuse money into a hopeless investment. I can’t help but compare the deterioration of the neighborhood with our family. The effort to keep it all presentable became too much.
Walking to the end of the driveway, I look for That House, the one on our street that was grander than the rest – two-stories with a double garage, and wrap-around porch – the hallmark of affluence.
“There was an empty lot next door, with short cement steps leading up to nothing but air, and for sale sign swinging in the barren and sand swept yard.”
I feel a stinging in my eyes and a tightness in my chest. The desolation is a shock. In my child’s mind, the house was a mansion, a palace of epic proportions. Now, nothing remains but stone and masonry. It was a brutal slap of reality.
Once back at her realty office, I ask the agent for her business card and promise to call her by the week’s end with my offer. Pulling onto the highway, I drive back toward town. Holding the steering wheel with my knees, I shred her card and let the scraps float out of my car window, like so many fragments of my childhood memories.