Smoke hung like humidity on a sultry summer afternoon. The cloudy air wasn’t from a barbecue, a nearby chimney, or landscaper stirring the dry earth. The puffs appeared to billow, grow larger then shrink, dance in circles, twirl in unison. It was as if they were full of breath giving life to a kaleidoscope of memories from long ago.
The demolition began as soon as the sun had risen high enough to cast light on the site. Showing its age of sixty-five years, the small two story wood and brick house stood precariously with peeling white paint and exposed gaps in the brick’s mortar. The screen door swayed open in front of the solid white door shut tight. Encompassing the lot, a black wrought iron fence, squiggly bent in some spots, was faded to dark grey in the weather-exposed areas.
When I pass this site, just one house in from the corner ranch on my way to town, I acknowledge its abandoned state, however, this morning was different. Dump trucks lined the curb in front of the house and a bulldozer broke the overgrown grass and weedy carpet of the front lawn. Soon, the aging house will succumb to the weight of the bulldozing machine.
Frame by frame, wall by wall, the house’s constitution folded like dominoes from the first push of the demolisher. The wrought iron, twisted and folded, surrendered its strength from defining the home’s perimeter. Wood splintered and bricks dissolved with every knock to the house’s foundation. Its lifetime of memories was sure to fall too, buried, suffocating, unable to breathe.
I wondered who lived in the house over six decades–young families who started there, the children who grew, the parents and grandparents who aged, the elderly who had downsized to senior living. I thought of the many changes made to each room commensurate with the times–the color of the walls from bold colors to calm neutrals, the carpet’s shag texture to maybe hardwood floors, old furniture replaced with something new and contemporary.
The house’s aging and evolution created memories for the life housed; memories connected them to home.
In my forthcoming book, Under the Birch Tree, I discover the many connections I made starting at my girlhood home where my steps planted roots while taking walks around the perimeter of my house. I came to know a particular tree, planted tall and arabesque in the front yard, and referred to it as my birch buddy. It became synonymous with home. My connections to home were also made inside where welcoming buttercup yellow walls of my bedroom embraced me with safety and contentment I could count on. My touch of each personal piece–a piggy bank decorating my nightstand, Nancy Drew mystery books lining the top shelf of my bookcase, a glass bowl terrarium–anointed them a part of my home. One day I would have to leave where the once new house would never be as it started in 1964. The floors will release their coverings and footprints will disintegrate into thin air. The furniture will relocate to new rooms in new homes and inhabitants will sit elsewhere. I will carry these connections to home with me.
The demolition was complete. The house’s history converged into a heap of old wood, its dusty, dank odor sitting as thick and heavy as the debris pile. It was with the fall of the house’s structure where the home was born into the wind, to the connections of its inhabitants, carried in clouds of memories, ready to travel.
When I left my girlhood home, I may have viewed it as broken connections abandoned in a heap of debris. Home was not destroyed into a lifeless pile but connections remained through the memories just as they had been dispersed into the dance of the dusty clouds of that old house that once stood in red brick and white painted wood.