So I’m back home in Madison, WI. My childhood home anyway. I guess that’s what I should call it, now that Des Moines is finally starting to feel like home. I scheduled this trip to coincide with my brother coming in from the far NW corner of Montana. These days I mostly come home to Madison to see my Dad. Dad is 87. Dad would tell you “the wheels are falling off” and “don’t ever get old”. He’s said this at least 100 times to me. We took him out to lunches and dinners and always went to his favorite restaurant, “Sir Hobo’s” (that’s not a typo). It’s comfort food and it’s familiar to him. That is important when you’re 87. He knows how far the drive is and how long it takes to get home. We did this for a couple of days. It is eye opening to spend time with an aging parent. My brother drove Dad and me on mini road trips each time we got in the car. I think we may have driven down just about every street in that town. It was fun checking out the old stomping grounds. I’ve been wanting to do this for years but it’s not possible with 2 little girls in the car who couldn’t care less where “Nancy Konicek used to live….”. My brother has been out west since ’76 and I’ve been gone since ’91 and much has changed in the little suburb of Madison that we grew up in. We spent time randomly driving down streets and pointing out houses where friends or teachers or bosses or coaches or boy/girlfriends, etc. used to live. It seemed like we could pick out at least one house on every street, usually more. The houses were so much smaller than I remember.
Late today we said our goodbyes to Dad because my brother and I both fly out early tomorrow morning. Driving back to one of my other brother’s house to spend the night, we decided to swing by the house that we grew up in. Mom and Dad raised 7 kids in (mostly) that old house. We drove the back way to look at the ½ acre back yard and not be gawking and blocking traffic from the main street. I wanted a little bit of time to really look at the old place. We got out of the car, stood there and took in our childhood home from behind. I saw that a tree that Dad and I had planted was now 75 feet tall. I saw the volunteer Sugar maple that looked like it had some potential 35 years ago (so we decided to start mowing around it instead of over it) was now 60 feet tall. We were both pointing at different things when the lady of the house came out to see who the heck was practically in her backyard. We walked over and introduced ourselves. “I grew up here” I said. She must have seen that my eyes were watering just being there because she said, “We’re just about to leave…..but would you like to come have a quick look inside the house…..?”. My brother Richard said “No, that’s okay”. I said, “Yes. Please!” We walked into our former backyard and we told her where the garden used to be and the dog kennel, etc. etc. We walked up to our old garage and I asked if I could look in. She said yes. My instincts found the light and my eyes found Dad’s old tool bench with the piece of wood where we kids had carved our names. Still there. I started to cry. I reached up and found the nook where we had always hidden a house key in case one of us kids got locked out. Still there. I fully expected to find a key still hidden on the secret ledge, but there was no key. We walked to the back porch. I touched the hand carved posts. The posts hadn’t been replaced, they were still there. I had to touch them and run my hands over the familiar gashes and dings put there by 7 wild children; 4 boys and 3 girls, in that order. We walked through the back door. I saw the coat hooks Dad had made. For 9 people. Still there. I looked in the back bathroom. It was exactly the same, even the light fixture over the mirror. I knew this place, every single square inch. I couldn’t hold back the tears. The owners’ seemed nice and I knew it would be a losing battle to try to fight what was coming. I didn’t sob, but I was crying pretty hard. So many memories, some good, some rough. I didn’t know this was going to happen today. We didn’t plan this. This house shows up in my dreams all the time… at least once a week, and here we were, back inside its walls. We walked through the first floor. The rooms were so small. In my memory the rooms are huge; 16 foot ceilings at least. Of course, now I see they were all mostly 9-foot ceilings. We came to the front door and the steps leading to the second floor. It was exactly the way I remembered it from my childhood. For some reason the stairway got me. I was crying at a pretty good clip again. We walked really slowly up the staircase. These were the steps I had run up a million times. Always two steps at a time, always running. In my memory, these stairs are so big and so long and so steep. Now they seemed small.
We went up and saw all of the old bedrooms and the house’s only full bath. First room on the left, this was Jimmy’s room, then it was Stevie’s, then it was Patty’s. We went through and remembered the occupants of each room. With 7 kids and 4 bedrooms, there was always jockeying for the best room according to seniority. I looked in each room and felt my history. So many years in one house. I wanted to stay. I want to go back. But the new owners had said that they were just on their way out….their kids were in the car waiting. We didn’t want to keep them. We thanked them for their kindness. It was outta sight that they had invited us in. A lot of living happened in this old farmhouse. A house that used to be on the edge of town and was now in the middle of it. I’m still processing this unexpected serendipity. If this ever happens to you, take the chance to go through your old home or give the chance to someone else. I’m not sure how or why all of the pieces fell into place to allow this to happen. I’ve been wanting/needing to walk back into that old place for years. I’m thankful that it happened today.