I’m staying in my childhood home over the Winter Holidays in Northern California. I’m 31 years old now, and my earliest memories come from this house.
It’s morning on the day after Christmas, and I just meditated on the porch. There’s no one around but a deer on the hillside, wary of me as it nibbles grass. The only sound is the far off hum of cars driving on the 101.
I get up, open the porch gate, and walk down the wooden stairs laid into the hillside.
There were more trees on the hill when I was a kid. Hundred-year-old Oaks everywhere. In thirty years, disease or fungal rot or who knows what have taken most of them down, one by one. I think it’s a wonder, given all the things that can kill a tree and how long it takes a new to grow, that there are trees anywhere at all.
Without so many trees, the hillside is bright green — the grass blossoming in open sunlight. It’s December in Northern California. It is the greenest time of the year here.
I sit down in the dewy grass on the hillside in the sunlight.
I’ve spent the last day shuffling through forgotten folders of the past in my childhood. My mom, apparently, kept great records of my childhood. I reviewed my high-school and elementary school grades (my favorite comment: “Student is improving” next to a B- in French). I found the Upper Classman Honorable Mention placard I won for a histrionic poem called “The Forest Of Us” that I submitted to the quarterly high school literary magazine The Quill. The poem was as overwritten as that last sentence, but it has some juicy metaphors.
I found my old baseball bat from T-Ball practice. I stopped playing T-Ball in the fourth grade after I got hit hard in the face with a ball. To this day, I have a fear of flying objects and duck at seemingly random moments walking around NYC, my instinct triggered. The bat is scribbled with a faded “Wonderboy,” written in black ink, a visual nod to the movie The Natural. I watched the movie when I was a kid and read the book when I was an adult. The movie features a much happier ending than the novel. My childhood bat was referencing the movie.
The majority of this house has stayed as I always remembered it. I still have the same sports-themed wallpaper circling the ceiling of my room. It didn’t fit my personality anymore then than it does now. The baby grand piano on which used to practice hours of classical music stands in the exact same spot, with the same notches in the wood from when I got bored and picked holes the facade instead of playing the keys.
I’m lucky to have never had to move from the house I was raised. Now, it’s imbued with nostalgia and memory, like a current in the walls and makings of the house. Recent changes don’t carry this charge: the new paint-job (I miss the feminine beige and pink), tasteful new paintings (I miss the off-putting stencil sketches of Russian beggars my Dad bought for some reason), updated silverware and dish-ware (we still never touch the China in the cabinet). It’s the old things that I held as a kid or blinked at through teenage tears that are thicker somehow, resonant with a call to remember who I once was when.
I didn’t appreciate this house as a kid. I wish I could thank it and its memories for holding on. The space remembers me better than I remember myself. I etched myself here, like feet walking on barely dried concrete, and the worn patterns remind me better than my memories. My childhood memories aren’t very reliable —no matter how often I recount them to my therapist. They shift and re-assemble and disappear over time. The house seems solid though.
Nostalgia is my emotional hook — always has been. I’m an inwardly, privately emotional adult most of the time; I don’t show or share my feelings easily. But way back when, I was a tortured kid, unabashedly intense and moody, and this house brings out that more volatile being. I feel choked up now, breathing and remembering those feelings, sitting on the hill.
My friend once asked me if I would rather go back and start over as a child again, but with the knowledge I’ve accumulated as an adult…or be wealthy forever. I instantly said being a child again before my friend pointed out it would be a nightmare to be trapped in a childhood existence with too much wisdom — none of my peers or authority figures would understand me and the struggles I’d go through would have no meaning because I’d already learned those lessons. It would just be endlessly frustrating until I caught up to where I left off — learning about life at age 31. I’m still a child inside anyway, as these raw feelings I experience on the hillside attest.
This house is intact because my dad kept it up and never let it go. I’m grateful for that. The only change is there are fewer trees. Time took them down, and you can’t save a tree once it’s dead. But there’s more light spilling in, and without all the foliage, I can see the past clearly in the house I was raised.