I heard through the grapevine that the house I grew up in is for sale again. I hadn’t driven through Hebron in several years, so I took the chance recently to do just that.
I was over in Lewiston/Auburn (or what many of us called ‘The Dirty Lew’) one day a couple weeks back, visiting a friend and working on her songbook project. While I was in town, I stopped at the health food store that got me started on my journey into plant-based eating, bought a few things. I ordered Indian for dinner from a place on Lower Lisbon, and while I waited for it I sat and looked at kids playing in Kennedy Park, which shines like a jewel now. I can’t believe I used to live here, I thought. Look how much this place has changed.
I drove by my old apartment building on Elm. It’s still ugly and gray, still sagging here and there, though the doors and windows look like they’ve received an upgrade. I stopped briefly on the side street and looked up at my old second floor living room window, and six years of my early adult life flashed before my eyes – boyfriends and neighbors and old jobs and paying rent every month to a French man in a cowboy hat.
From there, I made my way towards Norway for community sing. I crossed the river and passed the Auburn Mall, where I spent hours wandering around with my mom, and later with friends, eyeing things I could never afford, spending all my spare money instead on cassettes at Musicland.
The route home took me past Lost Valley and Wallingford’s Orchard, over Jackson Hill Road and then Center Minot Hill. I took each turn as if I’d never left, hugging every curve of the road like an old pro. I zipped past Slattery’s store, where I once worked as a teenager, selling cigarettes and soda and slinging fried egg sandwiches and stocking shelves with overpriced canned beans and tuna. Then I was on the home stretch on 119, thoughts and memories bubbling up and popping before I could even notice them all. Hey, where’s my buddy Scott’s old trailer? and Oh wow, look at that new place and Geez, they cleared that nice area to build storage units…
I slowed down coming up the hill towards Burnham Road (now named with a green DOT sign for the folks who live, or maybe by now once lived, at the end of what was in my youth just a long driveway), past the fire station, and then slowed as I pulled over across the street from the old homestead. I turned off the car and allowed the silence to rush into my ears.
The house, gray when I lived there, is as white now as the ghosts that some probably believe there – not me, though. The ghosts are all in my memory. I sat and ate a little of my takeout, admiring the big maples that are still standing, though trimmed severely from when I was a kid.
When I got home that night, I realized that if the house is for sale, I bet I could take a virtual peek inside. I looked up the listing to find 50 photos of rooms and hallways that felt familiar and foreign all at once. New paint, new fixtures, new furniture, new life. Even the attic got a super duper upgrade into the spare bedrooms that my parents and I always knew that it could be, and not just the hornet’s nest hangout and Christmas-ornament-and-everything-else-we-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-stuff-that-can’t-stay-in-the-garage storage area that it was while we lived there.
I clicked through the photos again and again, feeling a little like I was spinning on a slowly turning carousel. Where is my old bedroom? I kept wondering.
Oh cool, they kept the tin ceiling in the kitchen! Look at those nice new fixtures. And look, they installed French doors between those two rooms, nice. Oh, I’m so glad they kept all that beautiful trim around the windows, and the floors too. Okay, yep, there’s my parents’ old room. Oh wow, look what they did to the upstairs bathroom! (What Mom and I always called ‘Dad’s library’)
Hmmm, I still can’t find my old room!
Then I finally spotted it – it was the still-silver corner radiator that finally gave it away, the one that rarely worked properly, positioned as it was by the window that overlooked the lilac bushes and the vegetable garden. My old bedroom, where I spent so many hours of my young life reading and writing and singing and worrying and learning and figuring out and forgetting so many things, is now a mostly empty room with a strangely red floor, a desk, a beanbag chair, and, hilariously, the unforgivable presence of a Dallas Cowboys rug (wow, that would’ve frosted my father’s ass, ha!).
I thought I would be sad to see and discover all of this, and actually it’s been so liberating and life-affirming to see things change and grow and improve (even if they root for what my dad would’ve declared ‘the wrong team’), and it’s also been really fun to be able to show my old house to Shawn, and to share the stories and memories that have bubbled up. It’s also been interesting to imagine who will buy the house, and what changes they will make, and what happiness and grief they will experience within those walls.
It won’t be me buying the house, though, that’s for sure!