unnamed“There is no hiding from the childhood you have. It scrawls itself on your body, your spirit. We end up scrimshawed and there’s nothing we can do about it.”  From Till Human Voices Wake Us, by Patti Davis (available on Amazon.)

In my novel Till Human Voices Wake Us, Isabelle Berendon runs into ghosts and memories each time she visits her childhood home where her mother still lives. She hears again her father’s footsteps in the hall, unsteady from a long night of drinking. She sees in the shaft of sunlight that comes through the kitchen window, a long ago silhouette of her mother standing at the sink daydreaming. Last year, when I returned to my childhood home, the famous General Electric house that my father did commercials for in the 50s, it was because it had gone up for sale and they were having an open house. The couple who bought it in 1981 had passed away. I took a friend with me and it was strange and haunting how unchanged the house was. Some carpet had been changed, some rooms had been re-painted, but it was mostly the same. It hadn’t been staged, so the rooms were completely empty. But they weren’t empty to me.

“It’s empty of furniture, but full of ghosts,” I said to my friend. I was not the happiest child, so the memories that brushed past me, the ghosts that waited around corners, left me unsettled and uncomfortably close to the little girl who never felt like she belonged. Still, I was glad I went. We’re never that far from who we once were — it’s important to remember that sometimes, I think. The house sold quickly, and months later I took a walk along the street and noticed a work permit  posted outside that said a guest house was going to be built.

Months after that, the next time I decided to go up there for a walk, I rounded the corner and saw no roof line. The house was gone. The photo at left is from the hillside up above. I watched as a tractor moved more and more of the rubble that was once our home. I e-mailed the photo to my brother Ron who said, “A lot of memories under those tractor blades.” I think he was more sad than I was. I couldn’t really figure out what I felt, except I was drawn to go back there the next day and the next. When I watched the swimming pool being demolished, I felt my first tug of sadness. For me, those were the happiest memories — long summer days by and in the pool, my father teaching me how to dive off the board, my brother paddling around on a striped raft. The days tasted like sweet fruit and smelled like Coppertone.

Another home will be built there. Another family will create memories. It’s the circle of life. My father used to tell me things have to die so that something else can be born. It’s true for houses too. But maybe on some sun-washed afternoon the new owners will hear the echo of a brother and sister splashing in blue water and a tan athletic man executing a perfect jack-knife from the diving board. Nothing ever really dies, things just move farther away.





  1. Marc Hoover says:

    Such a personal experience, and one that I’ve never had, that I’ll just comment on the last sentence which brings to mind (in a sense) “the long goodbye” your dad (and my grandmother, born as I mentioned last time, about 15 miles from where he was) went through. Best wishes!

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