You can go home again

A few weeks ago, I got what was probably my last look at the house where I grew up. For those of us who grew up in the same house, in the same town, for all or most of our youth, “home” is a powerful concept. It carries with it not just the bricks and wood of a particular structure, but embodies the essence of a powerful period of time in our lives. It represents our roots in a time and place that, hopefully, is still cherished by most of us.

My family was the first to live in the house that sat above the steel town of Midland in Beaver County. The homes in the plan were still under construction in 1962, a decade before the steel industry would start its nose dive in Western Pennsylvania. Young families were moving in right and left. There would be no fewer than three other members of my high school graduating class living within sight of our house.

Eventually all of us except my mother moved on to other areas, even other states. She stayed in our home until age finally made the stairs of a split level house a painful burden. For several years she toyed with the idea of selling the house, torn between the idea of living in a nice, stair-less ranch house with only a small yard, and the relationships she had developed over 55 years of residence. She finally placed the house on the market, almost tentatively, and before she had a chance to change her mind, received an offer from a young couple looking to plant the roots of their family.

One of my brothers and I joined her on the day of the closing, loading up the last few items that would travel with her to her new home. It was an emotional experience for all of us, despite the fact that I, as the oldest, had lived in that house for only 12 years, and I have owned my own home for more than twice that long.

I thought that with the sale of the house, I was losing my connection to a place I couldn’t wait to get away from at the age of 18, but where I had grown up and where I had experienced the events we all talk about at class reunions and other gatherings with childhood friends. The memories take us back to a time when we didn’t know how lucky we were, but we felt safe in our little cocoon of friends and families. We didn’t worry about child molesters or abductors, about finding a job or paying a mortgage. The drama of our lives is amusing today, as we juggle careers and families and pending retirement, worried about war and terrorism, paying the bills, climate change and all the injustices of the world.

As I drove to my own home that day, I remembered so many things that had happened in that house, and in that neighborhood – the sleep-overs on the patio with every kid in the neighborhood; riding our bikes from dawn to dusk or walking endlessly around the loop of the housing plan, talking with my best friends; hikes up the “pipeline” – a swathe cut through the woods by a utility company that led to the top of the hill above Midland, the perfect place for viewing fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Was it a perfect time? Only in our memories, but these memories are truly magical and they are something each of us carries with us long after the bedroom where we lived during our teenage years has been occupied by a stranger.

The house may no longer be a place I can run to if the whole world falls apart, but “home” is a place I carry with me every day.