Today, as my Mom, now at home, has been doing much better, I decided to visit the two houses where I lived as a child. As I approached the first, up a windy lane, I observed that except for one house which I didn’t remember, the houses all seemed the same. Sure, a few, notably our one-time home, had different landscaping another was painted a darker shade, but little had changed.
The house looked different. I was spared the embarrassment of asking to see the room I shared with my brother (until I was seven) as no one answered the door when I rang.
I took the long route to my old house and was saddened to see that the Old Town Ice Cream Parlor where my Dad used to treat us on many a summer evening had disappeared as had the Daily Donoughts. I can still remember the daisy on its neon sign.
I parked just up the street from the house where I had spent the better part of my childhood. Situated next to the large wooded estate of a Midwestern mattress magnate, it had been an ideal place for a young boy to grow up. We could explore those woods as we made up stories about the old lady who lived in the castle-like stone house. If she caught us on her property, we had convinced ourselves, she’d imprison in her drafty cellar, perhaps torturing us with the old rusty farm equipment we found near a dilapidated building on the grounds.
Woods to explore! And an old house which helped activate our young imaginations. What a place for a boy to grow up.
I walked those woods today, now a local park. They no longer seemed to go on forever as they once had. If we got lost, we might never find our way home. But, just today, I followed one path to its end–on a suburban street. Those big woods had gotten a lot smaller since I last explored them.
It was good fortune that friends of the family bought the house, the younger brother of a girl with whom I once played in nursery school.
As I approached the house, I saw her mother, a woman I probably hadn’t seen since I was the age of her oldest grandchild. She remembered me; she still talked with my Mom every now and again. (The owner, a friend of my brother, was taking a romantic vacation with his wife.)
She invited me in, showed me the home. It was weird going through that house, now someone else’s home. They had done a nice job, fixing it up, correcting some of its flaws. I reminded her grandsons how lucky they were to live near such a big woods.
Learning I lived in LA, the eldest commiserated with me about the fate of the Lakers. I told him my friend Lucy took it harder as she was a bigger fan than I. They also asked if I knew any famous people.
When I spoke with the man who lived across the street from my childhood home and mentioned that I had once lived there, it seemed he was new to the neighborhood. I guess I assumed he had just moved in as he had bought the home for his family shortly before I started college. His home would always be Mrs. McCoy’s house, Mrs. McCoy being the nice old lady who lived there when we were kids and frequently gave us candy. It seemed I would always associate every house on the street not with its current owner, but with the families who lived there when I did.
From there, I drove back toward my brother’s who lives on the other side of town, not far from the private school I had attended. I retraced the route I had driven for over a decade (well, for most of that time, not at the wheel). While much has remained the same, there were a number of changes.
The old mattress factory was boarded up, part of it in the process of being torn down, a few trendy(-looking) cafes and bistros where once there had been shops. Some homes, however, looked exactly the same. Exactly. It seemed they even had the same exact landscaping, that the trees had barely grown at all.
Every time I drive through Cincinnati as I did today, exploring quite a bit of my home town, I see things I barely notice — or took for granted — as a child. Given where my Mom lives, not far from the Ohio River, I traversed a good deal of the town to get to our old house, seeing wonderful green spaces and pleasant homes with interesting architecture, even in the less affluent sections of town.
No wonder Winston Churchill called Cincinnati “America’s most beautiful inland city.”