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By Peggy Haymes
The old family house consoles a grieving daughter
Driving down the road on a sleepy summer Sunday morning, I see flashing lights and stopped traffic ahead. As I get out of my car, I hear the rumble of a truck cresting the hill. "It's not every day you see a house come down the street," a bystander says, her video camera in hand.
"Especially when it's the house you grew up in," I say.
The back of the house faces me as the truck inches toward the corner, a gaping hole marking the place where the fireplace used to be. I look into the den—our den. I see the bookcases, the cabinets, the wooden floors. A bottle of water sits on the counter. It's so utterly familiar that I half expect to see a family member walk through—my dad, a brother, a niece, even my mom, now seven months gone. It's utterly familiar, and yet so utterly strange. Our den is rolling down the street past me.
For all practical purposes, the house has always been a part of my life. I was 2 years old when we moved into it. For 20-odd years, it was the only house I knew, and for all the years since, it's been the place to which I've come home.
When they first found this house, my parents were faced with a growing family and cramped quarters. My mother immediately fell in love with the screened porch and the backyard filled with pine trees, big enough for a kid to explore. She loved the kitchen with lots of counter space, the full basement, and outside, the cul-de-sac that we called "the circle." In later years, she told of bringing me out to the house before we'd moved in, pushing me around the yard in my stroller, dreaming of raising her family here.
My parents swallowed hard and committed themselves to the $150-a-month mortgage payment. It was a stretch, but for three bedrooms, a basement, and a whole acre of land, they thought they just might be able to do it.
As much as the measurements of our heights penciled onto the kitchen door frame, a landscape becomes the measure of the passing years. The maple tree that my brother jumped over when we moved in soon grew tall enough for me to climb. The Christmas tree we planted one year became a towering evergreen, twice as tall as the house. My mother loved and carefully tended her forsythia, jonquils, tulips, boxwoods, azaleas, and dogwoods. My father was the artist in the family, but the yard became my mother's canvas. As the years began to pile up and her frame started to shrink, she still renewed herself by putting in a fierce day's work in the yard.