By Deb Baer Becker
My family’s home was recently sold, according to Zillow.com. It had gone into foreclosure after my Uncle Bob had passed, and the house sold at a sheriff’s sale for, as Uncle Bob would have said, “Pennies on the dollar.” By that time it had been vacant a while, had peeling paint, out-dated plumbing, and all the woes of a weathered ancient. I worried it might be torn down, turned into a parking lot, given its sad condition and proximity to the local hospital. This modest row house on a numbered street on Lebanon’s south side was once the vibrant and tidy home where I had lived the brightest years of my childhood. My place in the family of things will always be tethered there.
This home had been in my family for more than a hundred years. We had a large porch swing that hung by the back door. I remember summer afternoons swinging in the soft breeze, Mammy and I, sipping frozen Popsicles, cool and shaded from the hottest part of the day.
We had the most prolific Hosta plants in tidy flowerbeds near the porch. Generations old, they were of every variety: variegated, blue, lime; verdant and lively, with sprigs of violet flowers. I’d help Grandma split them each spring, so she could hand them off to neighbors and family.
Old-fashioned peonies bushes, big as bushels, filled rows and rows of the backyard’s garden. Lavender, white, rose and the oh-so-fragrant double-pinks; each bush had blooms as big as baseballs. I’d follow Mammy as she selected blooms to cut. I wanted to pick the black ants off the buds, but Mammy said, “Leave them be. Those good ants help open each flower.” And I still believe her.
The pear tree is gone now, and even I wouldn’t miss the summer bees that chased me when I had to pick up their stash of over-ripened fruit, which had fallen from the branches and littered the grass. The magnolia is gone, too. It was meant to be ornamental, but by the time I’d come along, it had height and girth and was sturdy as an Oak. Its lower branches gave a small and not very coordinated child easy access to the higher limbs. I’d climb branch-to-branch skyward, scuffing the white toe caps of my trusty red Keds, and park my bottom in a Y within its crown, and then watch clouds go by until Mammy came yelling and shaking her broom at me.
We were a houseful with two to each bed, except for Uncle Bob, who had his own room because he was an officer in the Navy, or at least that’s what I thought gave him rank and privilege. We were a household run by the chiming bells of the kitchen’s mantle clock: the front walkway was swept each morning before seven; bed sheets were changed on Wednesdays by Noon; Grandma cooked and Mammy served supper at five o’clock. Mammy went to bed at seven bells, while Grandma and I watched the TV series, “Gunsmoke” and turned in at eight.
I was lucky to live the best days of my childhood in the comfort and care of that wonderful old house with Mammy, Grandma, Mom, and my Uncle Bob, all of us stitched together like a patchwork quilt. No matter how far I’ve wandered since, this is the place where I feel deep connection.
There’s a death scene in The Gladiator movie where Maximus, played by Russell Crow, walks through a field, hand by his side, his fingers brushing the fluffy tops of familiar tall grasses; he is walking the path home. Of the many times I’ve returned home, the home part of coming home was always walking that narrow concrete path through the backyard, past the magnolia tree, and the fragrant peonies, the tall pine, and the pear tree; that’s my path home. Reminiscing a walk down that garden path is like coming home to myself.
Epilogue: Our family’s home has been completely renovated. The new kitchen and bath, refinished hardwoods, and fresh paint have made her look clean and bright, or as Mammy would say, “Spic and span.” To think that another family now lives and loves within this wonderful sanctuary warms my heart.