House For Sale

I still drive past there sometimes. Past the old house on 13th Avenue. Just to see it. To make sure its still there. To see how it has changed. Just to remember. From the time I was born until I reached twelve years of age, we lived in 4 houses in two different towns. The first wasn’t really a house but a single wide trailer sitting in a pecan orchard outside Cordele, Georgia, my father’s hometown. When I was about a year old we moved to a little duplex on 14th Avenue in town. We weren’t there long before the three of us, Mama, Daddy, and myself, moved to Newnan, near my mother’s hometown of Moreland. We lived there for a couple of years and then moved back to Cordele, to a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 1686 square foot house built in 1930 smack in the center of 13th Avenue. The address had a rhyming, sing-song ring to it—6-1-2, 13th Avenue. That’s how my mother helped me memorize the address as a kid. I still hear it that way in my head today.

               There was a dogwood tree out front near the northeast corner of the house, growing beneath the sun-dappled shade thrown by the pine and pecan trees in the yard. A hedge of pink azaleas grew symmetrically beneath the front windows, directing one’s gaze toward the front door. Mama had us take pictures in front of those azaleas every Easter Sunday. It’s the first home I can recall and it became the only home I really knew in which our family was whole. The house was sold after my parents divorced in 1982.

               It seems like it all just happened, our time in that house, and yet, it feels as though I was only a witness to someone else’s life there. As if I watched a movie in which the people are no more physically present now than characters on a screen. As if the inside of the home I knew was just a movie set and the outside of the house I can still drive past is some fake building exterior.

               But I seem to have more vivid memories of my time in that place than I do of the rest of my life. Perhaps that’s how it is for everyone. The place where you spent those early formative years makes the deepest mark. Each room, each corner of the yard has its own story. Taking a stroll across the yard and through the house would be like visiting a long-lost friend.

               During one of my drive-bys I noticed a realtor’s “For Sale” sign in the front yard. Perhaps this was my chance. I could pose as a potential buyer and walk through my childhood home, examining it as closely as I would like. What would I find there?

               Would the realtor be ok with me climbing the dogwood tree in the front yard? Would I hear the sound of Franki Valli’s voice, along with that of Jan & Dean, the Beach Boys, Chubby Checker, and Sam Cooke playing in the living room when I walked in the front door as I had when Mama and I listened to her records there? Would I see her ironing there in the hallway, an old glass Coke bottle with a sprinkler lid on top for moistening the wrinkles, propped at the end of the ironing board? Would I see her at work in that narrow kitchen, talking on the green Bell telephone with the long curly-Q chord, while chocolate pudding made from a square Jello Box cooled in the refrigerator? Or maybe she’d be out on the screened-in side porch where our washer and dryer used to sit. Or waiting in the rocking chair in my room to read a story aloud.

               Would a flying squirrel come down the chimney and swoop around the living room as it had one Christmas? Perhaps the clandestine mural of Superheroes I drew on the wall in crayon beneath the secretary’s desk in the hallway was still visible. Maybe an old model airplane or jigsaw puzzle would be waiting on the dining room table for Mama and I to finish.

               Maybe I left a few old comic books or baseball cards or one of those first Kenner Star Wars action figures from Christmas of 1977 laying around in my room. I wonder if the faded black and white photo of Mean Joe Green I tore from a magazine was still taped to the inside of my closet door?

               Could I wash my hands in the sink of that tiny bathroom we all shared as I had been told to do so many times?  Would there be an end table next to an old couch I could sit at and maybe turn on the TV to catch a Three Stooges or Little Rascals short? Maybe a quick Popeye, Super Friends, or Hong Kong Fooey cartoon as if it were a long ago Saturday morning.

               Would Daddy be waiting in the backyard with two baseball gloves so we could play a game of catch and he could make my hand sting through the leather as it popped? Perhaps my old dachshund, Skippy, named for the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island, and my mother’s Cocker Spaniel, Buffy would be there to greet me. I could rub their ears and scratch their bellies until their legs started kicking.

               Hopefully someone has moved the rake I tripped over, causing me to cut my head open and have to go to the hospital for my first stitches. Maybe the 2” high pitcher’s mound I made by hauling bucketfuls of sandy dirt and iron rock pebbles from the back alley into the yard would still be there. As would Daddy’s old F-100 pickup, waiting to take us to the farm like we were skipping church on a Sunday morning.

               No, I wouldn’t find any of these things in that house. They exist now only in my memory. All of them. Everything you just read. Things change. The azaleas have been ripped from their beds in the front yard. There are iron bars on the front door. The screen porch out front on the house’s Northwest corner has been closed in. That’s all I need to see. As much as I would like to see the inside of the old house again, it would alter the image I have of that time and place. What will be someone else’s memories live inside that house now and I hope they will be as sweet to them one day as mine are to me now.

©2020 Lenny Wells

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