My childhood home on Stephens Street was a poorly built track piece in the booming suburbs of the fifties. Ten miles from downtown and a few more from a farm town that would transition to little more than one of the states largest strip mall repositories over the next few decades.
Our place was one of the smallest, cheapest models in the neighborhood, with three bedrooms, one bath, a single garage — maybe a thousand square feet. The yard was never finished, maybe because of my mom’s scattered-ness and dad’s drinking. Who can say?
The place was defined by contradictions. It was home, my place of rest and protection. It was a mess of screaming fights, lonely fears, abuse and waiting for the next bad thing. I remember Mom would give us pajamas hot from the dryer on a winter night. I remember days without seeing my dad, not knowing if it was a blessing or a curse.
We moved in when I was four and stayed for about fourteen years. Moving came up a few times and I was terrorized. When I was nearing my last year of high school, the momentum increased. I made it clear that the family could move, but I was finding a way to finish school with my friends.
My childhood dream was that somehow I would live in the house forever. In the far future I’d be there, probably with a family of my own. I’m not sure where my parents and my brother went in the dreams, but they were gone. It was home, my home, and I wanted or needed no other.
The move happened soon after I graduated and the fragmentation of my family became its own version of a modern tragedy over the next decade leading to my parents’ eventual divorce. We may have been fortunate to get out when we did. I hear it is now within spitting distance of some of the worst crime and poverty in the metro area. It is the stuff that fills local news and idle conversations.
Connie and I married young. We went through the somewhat common series of rapid moves in our early years together — about an address change a year on average. In 1985 we made the move to owning our first home (actually, the bank owned it and we just got the privilege of paying for and taking care of it). By this time we had two preschool-aged sons. We moved a few blocks in 1992 making sure to stay in the same school area for the kids’ sakes.
This new home, new for us, was built in the fifties and went through a major remodel in 1970. It was twice the size of our first place and twice the size of my childhood home. Within a few years we had reworked most of the interior. The kitchen took a few extra years, but we finally got it done. My wife worked to provide our own outdoor sanctuary by transforming the yard and gardens.
We live on Tulip Road, formerly a tulip farm. It is a solitary piece of road with about fifteen homes. Most people in town have never heard of it. It is the home our sons most identify with. It is the only home our grandkids know us in. it is the home both my wife and I have lived in longer than any other.
It will soon be twenty-two years that we have lived on Tulip Road. It is getting near twice as long as I lived in suburban home of my childhood. According to any standardized accounting system this house experience far exceeds my childhood residence. More house, better organized and cared for and a far from perfect, yet more stable family.
But when I think of “home” I am still driven by my childish memories. I can quickly skim the bleak realities and ruminate on memories that may or may not be real. This house, the place I have lived longer than any other, the place that has truly provided refuge and strength, has an ongoing feeling that I can only describe as temporary. Not that I expect to leave soon.
I think it may be wrapped in the sense of childhood innocence and distance of memories. I somehow thought living on Stephens Street could last forever, maybe my first self-definition of heaven on earth. Tulip Road has always been held with awareness of responsibility, my own limitations and knowing that there will be an end.
Occasionally when I am back near Stephens Street I’ll drive by the old house, maybe get out of the car and walk the street a bit. It looks so small and uncared for. I no longer have delusions of what life would have been if I had stayed there for what I thought would be forever. I am thankful for where I live and how my life has been shaped and guided over the years.
But I realize there may be a gift in the sense of idealized home that touched me all those years gone by. I may never sense it again. It may be unreal but it shaped me and it provides a bit of an idealized memory for moments when I need them.
And in unique ways, each home has shaped me and each continues to be a part of defining who I am.
May God have mercy on us all.
Stephens Street house over my left shoulder.