Visions of my childhood home endlessly haunt my dreams. In some dreams I still live there and it seems perfectly natural. In other dreams we never sold the house and we go back to visit whenever we get a chance. Most of the time my Mom is there, and none of us seem surprised that she is still alive. In my dreams I can remember every little detail. The glass doorknobs. The sparkling chandelier that would fill the dining room walls with little rainbows in the late afternoon. The fact that the basement door would stick and needed just a bit more effort to open and close. The way the upstairs hallway creaked, right about halfway down the hall. The sound of the wind rustling through the leaves of the three large trees in our yard, singing me to sleep at night.
Sometimes in my dreams I ‘m an outsider. I no longer live there, but I ‘m curious about the current state of my old home. I sneak around the yard, trying to peer in the windows. It’s difficult to see inside, so I try the door. Unlocked. No cars in the driveway. What’s the harm?
I slip in quietly and wait for my eyes to adjust indoors. Sometimes the house looks exactly as we left it. A kitchen decorated in the late 70s with horrible orange and yellow wallpaper and cream-colored lace curtains. Yellow shag carpeting and green drapes in the living room. I ‘m always shocked in these dreams that the new owner hasn’t updated anything. The house needed updating when we left — why wouldn’t they care enough to redecorate it?
Sometimes the house is completely different inside. In many of my dreams I barely recognize the interior and the new owner has added on in strange ways — a gigantic living room, a ridiculous two level deck. In one dream, an entire third floor with a winding straircase had been added.
When I ‘m an outsider in my dreams, there’s always the thrill and the fear of knowing that I ‘m not supposed to be there. Sometimes the new owner comes home and I ‘m caught. I try to explain that I grew up in this house and I was just curious. . .I just wanted to look around.
I think that many people have vivid and nostalgic memories of the houses they grew up in. But I often wonder if others have recurring dreams that place them in their childhood home like I do. I ‘ve always theorized that the house is somehow a representation of my mom. Maybe it’s from missing her, missing a time when life was a little more carefree. The house represents a safe place, the last place where we all lived together as a family.
All of us drive by the house when happen to be traveling through town. When my mom was still alive, she was practically obsessed with the house. I’m probably not much better. A few Christmases ago I made my brother not only drive as slowly as possible by the front of the house, but through the back alley as well so I could see the back yard. Is the swingset still there? Of course not. They cut down the bushes! Well, it looks better that way, actually.
Two years ago my Dad took a picture of house when he was in town. He sent it to me with a note that read, “On our recent trip from Cleveland we stopped by Bowling Green to show Mary the town, campus and our home. . .I thought you would like to have a copy of one of the photographs I took.” It’s hard to describe how that photo made me feel. On one hand, some of the details I remembered so vividly were gone. The tree next to my bedroom, the stone path that wound around the side of the house from the sidewalk that lead up to the front door. On the other hand, it looked great. It was well cared-for and nicely landscaped. What else could I really ask for?
On her way home from Michigan to Cleveland this past weekend, my sister stopped in Bowling Green to visit an old friend. Not surprisingly, she drove by the old house. Slowly past the front, then slowly through the alley.
Well, I might as well stop.
She stood in the alley a little while, taking in the yard. It looks so much smaller than I remember!
The doors were open, letting the fresh spring air fill the house. She felt compelled to go up to the door.
“This may sound strange, but. . .I grew up here. I. . .just wanted to thank you for taking such good care of the house.”
“What’s your name?” asked the woman.
The woman knew my parents from their time at the university. She had heard about my Dad’s involvement in local goverment and his passion for preserving the neighborhood. Our street used to be known as “University Row,” a neighborhood that several families called home. The current owner told my sister that our old house is now the only property on the street that hasn’t become a college rental.
“Now I understand what it feels like to be sad that your old neighborhood has changed,” my sister said to me.
The woman who lives there now is really nice. She didn’t mind my sister’s visit at all. In fact, she was delighted to talk about the house and the neighborhood.
“Would you like to come in?”
My sister was hesitant. Her kids were in the car and she had already stayed in Bowling Green too long. The woman offered to keep an eye on the car while my sister looked around.
“How did it look?” I asked anxiously.
“Really good. Hardwood floors, nice colors. . .it just seemed so much smaller than I remembered.”
“What about the kitchen? What did it look like? Is it very different?”
“Um. . .white cabinets. She added a small island.”
One question after another, my sister failed to quench my curiosity. I wanted details. What did she do to the bathroom? Does the fireplace look the same? Does the floor still creak in the middle of the upstairs hallway? Not wanting to linger too long and knowing that the kids were waiting for her in the car, my sister moved quickly through the house, missing many of the details I desperately wished she’d noticed.
I was surprised that I didn’t dream about the house that night. My sister’s tale only heightened my curiosity and I ‘ve been thinking about the house a lot over the past few days. I can’t help but wonder if seeing the house for myself would stop the dreams. Would my curiosity finally be satisfied?
Maybe I will be the next stranger to knock on the door.
“Hello, I used to live here.”