On Saturday, we took the afternoon to visit a couple of the local sights that we are always reading about in the paper and saying, “Oh, that would be we fun, let’s do that!” I think it was the hottest day of the year but on rare occasion, the oppressive heat has to be temporarily ignored in order to fulfill a promise.
Burt had a place he wanted to take me, a local, organic eatery which is re-purposing a former Mom and Pop corner dairy bar. I am in agreement with the positive reviews. I have had two special taste treats this week. You can go weeks without anything new and different. Earlier in the week, I had stopped at a gas station for sustenance for a fifteen minute drive home. Anyone will tell you, I always get the same thing, a brand name beverage. Rarely, rarely will I purchase food cooked on site. On this day, I bought a Dr. Pepper Iccee, something I had never seen before. As I like to say, “Taste Sensation.” I will have to drive back over to get another one, sometime. And now on Saturday, the delicious little hippie shop was offering a Shitake Mushroom Burger. And awesome French fries. I bet there is a mushroom or two in my next shopping basket.
On the way downtown, we decided to drive by our first house. This is the time of the year that anything that might be slightly neglected looks hot, dusty and dried out, like our front yard. And it has been watered this summer, for the most part.
We turned onto the street. My heart sunk. I guess I had not driven by recently. This is an older neighborhood, located about two neighborhoods away from the edge of the hood, which was not a concern when we purchased the house because gangs and related gang activities had not yet shown up in our city. We had had wonderful neighbors, many were the original homeowners, and the pride of ownership was always evident, except for the strange couple who had a child’s headstone by their front steps.
The difficulty we had in leaving this home is many, many years behind us. But the process of selling was the culmination of four years of waiting, hoping and praying. Not in equal amounts were dashed hopes and the cruel almost. Everything that isn’t supposed to happen pending a sale, happened. Less than two weeks from the final sale, the prospective buyer changed their mind all because of $15 dollars. Supposedly, they had purchased new furniture for the house and when the mortgage amount was totaled, it was all too much. I could tell them a thing or two about too much. Finally, six months later, we sold our cottage and bought the mansion.
After living there twelve years, the cottage was much loved. Maybe 1100 square feet on a bright day, the house had beautiful hardwood floors, good woodwork, lots of windows, the cherished attic fan and numerous oak trees. It didn’t have central heat/air, a dishwasher/disposal, dryer outlet and more than one bath. It was filled with the voices and laughter of almost all of our loved ones, the view from the back door of a little girl hanging off the swing set or chasing her puppy, the view from the front door of policemen coming down the street with guns drawn, the salt from sobbing tears in the bad years, the fragrant rosebush planted in Pa’s memory, and the new Daddy placing our new baby in my arms to carry into a loving home.
About five years after we moved, Burt came home and said, “They have grass!” After the third owner in five years, I decided to drive by and see the grass growing in places we had only dreamed about. I was happy to see the cottage reflecting the same pride of ownership we had felt, but with more funding. Seeing the open door, I walked up the new, level, smooth sidewalk. The owner was thrilled to meet me. Soon I was standing in my old living room, admiring the work she and her husband had done, especially the new laundry room and second bath.
After a good visit, she walked me to the door. Standing on my old porch, I remembered a tyke on a trike hitting the bottom step over and over, on purpose, when the walk was uneven and low. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a rosebush I planted following my grandfather’s death. Suddenly, I had a revelation. The day Pa had come to see his first great-grandbaby, he had stood in that exact spot trying to see through the clouds of macular degeneration, just for a glimpse of the Concorde flying overhead. The next year, I planted the rose in that very spot because of the good sun. But it took all these years later, perhaps prompted by all the memories swirling while visiting my beloved cottage; a homecoming, I realized the connection. The rose bush had remained; strong and giving, just like my Pa.
The tall oak trees still shade the street and the yards. Always before, things had changed so little in our part of the neighborhood that it felt like I’d just been away on a long trip, but not this day. Then we drove past our little cottage. The little red brick cottage sat on the lot as it always had, clean and tidy with green grass freshly mowed. I didn’t think to look for the rosebush.
We continued down the main thoroughfare towards downtown, to another neighborhood that has gone through economic downturn and natural disasters. City blocks of wide open spaces cleared after a disaster. Surviving homes and businesses are beginning to enjoy a revival, even brand new home construction – the ultimate currency of economic hope for any neighborhood.
Burt stopped in front of one of those empty lots. We were there, parked at the curb, next to the brick sidewalks that had fronted the cottage of my piano teacher, Mrs. Ransom. I had completely forgotten about the Yucca plants that had been in her yard. They were hiding a couple of concrete steps, barely recognizable under the thick foliage. Standing tall in the yard, was her magnolia tree, the tree that had been stripped by a tornado. And in the aftermath, someone had left the bare stick in the ground, alone. Maybe, in not too many years, a new house will be built around the exotic Yucca plants in the front yard and the towering Magnolia with big dark green leaves ; a new homecoming.