Well, I’m home.
About twenty years ago, my father and his wife bought a house. It was in the middle of a giant yard, at the edge of what some would call a “town,” or, as those people exaggerated, a “city,” that is still just a bit larger than the size of a postage stamp. Maybe the size of a postcard stamp. That town is Leslie, Michigan, in the heart of nothing. They made the decision to, essentially, rip up our roots and transplant them in a field a hundred miles away.
For twenty years, I held onto a wild childish hope that someday I would return to Bay City. Someday, I would be big enough and old enough to make my own decisions and live wherever I wanted, and there was nowhere in the world I wanted to be more than a place I could call home. A place where my family was closer than a phone call. A place where I could walk the streets and remember what it felt like to be utterly in love with a place.
No matter how many places I’ve lived, I still call Bay City home. As of two weeks ago, I can now say that without enduring the rolling eyes of anyone whom has heard me wax nostalgic about this place. It says so on my drivers’ license. It says so on my mailbox. It says so on the mail I receive in that mailbox. It says so on my work papers, and on FGL’s work papers. It is so, and I am so, so, so thrilled to say so. It’s been a long time since I cried so hard and so happily.
Most of the new house is unpacked. We are finding new surprises about this house as we go along, most of them unfortunate. Still, I remain optimistic because getting here was half the battle – the hard half. I am within fifteen minutes of seeing my Grama Barb every other day, half an hour of seeing my sister nearly every day, half an hour of seeing my cousin and her ever-expanding brood (welcome, Mr. Grayson James, born today at 12:21 am!) and fifteen minutes of an aunt whom, as I put it once while quite drunk (but still so very honest and heartfelt!), “was twice the parents both my parents ever were, combined.” I walk into her house and dig my hand into the jelly bean jar. She wants to feed me. She always wants to feed me, and God help me, I always want to eat! She plans family dinners and kid-friendly get-togethers. She saves pictures and mementos and understands my heart in ways I can only be grateful for. She embodies the spirit of the family I wanted so badly, and I can’t express enough how thankful I am to be within hug’s reach of her now.
It has taken some getting used to, being in this town. I am remembering things that are not the same anymore. I searched for Mooney’s ice cream for nearly a week, before finding out the hard way that my favorite flavor was discontinued. No matter; I can and will evolve. There will be other flavors. The important thing is that I have it, and I have my big front porch. Every night, I fall asleep to the comforting orange glow of the streetlights. I can’t believe how much I missed their presence.
When I left my father’s house in Leslie, when I left that place for good, we stopped at an A&W Root Beer Stand and celebrated my freedom with a float. The other night, we walked down to the A&W Drive In down the street and I relished in the feeling of that frosty mug in my hand as I once again celebrated freedom. I celebrated the freedom from everything that has held me back for twenty years as I’ve fought harder than Odysseus to make my way home.
We’ve unpacked most of the house. Once I have some shelves, I will be able to unpack all of my books and I will consider myself fully moved in. There are tubs and tubs of them against the wall waiting to be let out. I can almost hear them crying as I pass them, loving the sound of my feet across the (original!) dark wood floors. This house creaks, and each movement I make reminds me of the time that has passed, the people that have dwelled, and the many, many lives that have walked through these crooked doorways. Every floor is wavy, every window sticks. The basement leaks like a post-iceberg Titanic, but when I look out the window and I see my town, none of it matters. I am home.
During the course of unpacking, I found my Big Purple Binder. It’s the binder that holds every piece of paper that has been scribbled on, all of those words I pieced together to create poetry. It holds all of my sentences, and even the grades I received for them. In looking through my past work, I found one of my Bay City pieces I wrote back in high school. I’d like to share it with you.
It never mattered what the weather was like. If it was sunny, we’d walk to the park, or around the old, familiar neighborhood, or run across the Riverwalk planks in our sandals, watching the ducks look at us as if we were loopy. Sometimes, we’d go for rides in the big ol’ boat of a car Uncle Cris used to drive and let the wind run between our toes as we hung our feet out the window as he constantly nagged at us to pull them back in.
If it was overcast or rainy, we’d pull the vertical blinds across the huge picture window so no gray sunlight that we always thought looked cold could get in. We’d cook up a big pot of beans and rice and a griddle full of johnnycake. Then we’d spend the afternoon playing with Legos and having girlie chats in the empty bedroom upstairs. We always had to keep talking, because the silence up there seemed so loud. Sometimes we wondered if that room was haunted by the ghost of my uncle whom had died there.
The first thing that called out to us when we’d pull into the driveway of Grama Barb’s house was the porch. It used to be cement, with black iron rails that enchanted us so much, we’d dare our friends to stick their heads between them so we could laugh and panic a little when they got stuck. For a long time, summer lasted so much longer than the rest of the year, so the weather was always warm and we’d stay on the porch and trace each other with chalk. Every new visitor that rang the doorbell looked at the porch with a funny look on their face, remarking to our grandmother that her porch looked like a crime scene. She’d look at the porch and say, “Yep, there’s a masterpiece right there. Don’t I have clever granddaughters?” One thing about her was, we could always level with her.
When the screen door opened, there was a worn out couch that looked tired, like a single mom on a Wednesday night. Best of all, there was a big iron stove that heated the big white house we loved so much. Looking to the right, there was a big open kitchen with broken linoleum that looked like patio bricks. When we were little, we used to try to keep our feet on one square at a time, so we wouldn’t break our mommies’ backs. In this kitchen was a touchstone of our childhood: a big, ugly washer.
It never occurred to us that a washer didn’t belong in the kitchen. To us, it was a table, a sofa, “home base” and a comfort. It was as much a fixture in our lives as the party store on Wenona was, or our left feet.
Our grandmother never grew old. Her glasses changed once in a while, from brown to pink, and her magnets on the fridge sometimes changed, but the world she lived in and welcomed us into was always the same.
The bathtub was a hideous hue of pink, the little flowers on the Corelle were always drab green, the overstuffed country couch with one huge cushion that always served as our cruise ship when we played glamorous versions of “House” was always cornflower blue, and all the things that were supposed to be white were always gold with the remnants of our grandmother’s legendary chain-smoking habit.
It was a big house, like a giant. It was a Gulliver in Lilliput next to the houses it sat near. Most of the homes on Dean Street were big and old, though, and each of them had a history as special as our family gathering spot, with chipping paint and a trampled lawn. It was a good thing she raised granddaughters and not grass.
We can’t say our childhood wasn’t special. We were the Charlie’s Angels of the neighborhood, my cousins and me. We were the Three Musketeers. We had room to roam, our trusty washer, weather that never dampened our fierce five-year-old spirits, and a boat of a car to hang our feet out the window as the wind ran between our toes and the sound of our laughter could be heard all the way down Center Avenue.
Obviously, things have changed a little. Maybe Grama Barb is getting a little older. A little. And maybe Uncle Cris doesn’t drive a boat of a car anymore – but now he’s got a truck! I’m still waiting for my house with a big pink bathtub, but it’s coming. And I’ll be here, with a sense of patience that I haven’t been able to find in twenty years and twenty thousand other places.
It’s good to be home.