A gentle breeze ruffles the leaves on the maple tree. Sunlight gently bathes the house in a warm light. Birds fly to and fro, chattering to one another. You ease your car up the driveway and park outside the garage. Opening the door, you step outside and take a deep breath. You have arrived.
Walking around the garage to the side door, nothing seems to have changed. The pine trees still stand tall next to each other, forming a tiny cave underneath their branches. The rickety old basketball hoop seems to guard the driveway proudly, even though it has long since lost its net and the backboard has been patched more times than your son’s jeans have been.
As you walk slowly down the sidewalk, you catch a glimpse of the barn in the backyard. The white roof has since lost its bright color and is now a weary shade of grey. The friendly red paint is chipped in multiple places, and the steps leading up to the door have rotted and collapsed. Pausing outside the side door into the garage, you decide to explore the backyard before entering the house.
Continuing on towards the barn, you notice the sole telephone pole still standing next to the woodpile. Seeing the few scraps of wood on the ground, you remember as a child running out to grab some chunks from the overflowing pile of wood. The woodpile was always there, a familiar landmark. You remember firing your first gun there (still adamantly claiming it was your first gunshot, even though it was with a BB gun). You remember chasing the dog in circles around the pile. You remember trudging past it day after day on your way to and from the barn and house. Now, there is almost nothing left.
Reaching the barn, you pause outside and begin investigating the dry, yellow grass outside of it. Kicking aside stray logs and ash, you uncover the almost-invisible circle of dirt. The firepit. Memories overwhelm you as you lower yourself into the grass by the hole. The firepit was like the woodpile: always there, always familiar, always used. When you were here as a child, you remember gathering around the fire almost every night to roast s’mores. Songs were sung, marshmallows roasted, and happiness would shine on everyone’s faces. You remember carrying down the rickety old lawn chairs from the garage and forming a half-circle of them around the fire. You remember lugging out the old picnic table to lay out the graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate. You remember chasing fireflies around the yard and then returning to the fire when you needed warmth or more s’mores.
Grandma was always ready with a cup of water for a thirsty grandchild or a wet wipe for sticky faces and fingers. Grandpa was already ready to help roast your marshmallows, teaching you the perfect way to hold your stick over the fire. Some nights, he even brought out his accordion and played a variety of polkas. When that happened, you would hook arms with one of your cousins and swing around in an imitation of dancing. Remembering how you would skip around the fire reminds you of a story Grandpa used to tell sometimes. A story about your aunt skipping around the fire. One day, she skipped too close and fell into the flames. Thankfully, Grandpa pulled her out quickly and she wasn’t seriously harmed. But ever since Grandpa told you that story, you were always careful to stay a safe distance away from the fire when dancing and skipping around.
Rising from the ground and brushing off your pants, you amble slowly away from the firepit and stop outside the garden. Now, it is overrun with weeds and dirt. But you remember a time when it was overflowing with vibrant produce. Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and squash. Most importantly, though, were the strawberries. Many a hot day you remember crawling through the dirt and plants to pick strawberries. Every child would get a small, square wooden carton to place their picked strawberries in – at least the ones they didn’t eat first. It was almost a contest: who could fill their carton with the most strawberries. It didn’t matter who won, because all the strawberries were cleaned and then used to make homemade strawberry jam. Mmm! Licking your lips, you remember Grandpa’s famous homemade jam. Since he used less sugar than the recipe called for, the jam was thinner than store-bought jam, almost thin enough to drink. You can still remember the taste of the fresh strawberry jam slathered on a slice of bread. One of the things you miss most about your childhood.
Continuing past the garden, you pause where the metal playset used to stand. Long gone at this point, you remember swinging with your cousins or taking turns sliding down the slide. Grandpa repaired the playset so many times that you’re not sure how much of it was actually the original playset. Considering that your own mother played on it as a child, probably not much of it was original when you played on it.
Turning in a circle, you take in all the other surroundings. One of your favorite things about this place is all the trees. Pine trees, maple trees, oak trees, apple trees. Pine trees stand tall while guarding the open backyard. The maple trees in the front yard formed the base for numerous forts constructed by you and your cousins out of dry, fallen leaves during autumn. Glancing up at the pine tree next to the house, you remember how your cousin’s frisbee got stuck at the top when your brother threw it too high. The trees hold so many memories. Grateful that they are all still standing, you stroll back towards the house.
On your way, you pause on the back porch. The empty space next to the sliding back door used to be the home of a creaky old swing. With two benches facing each other and a wooden platform between them, it was always a contest for you and your siblings as to who could swing the highest. Chuckling quietly, you remember Grandma scolding all you kids when the swing went too high. Rousing yourself from these memories, you walk back down the sidewalk towards the side door of the garage.
Unlocking it with your key, it slowly creaks open, revealing a musty but familiar smell. Flipping the light switch, an open, empty space greets you. Once upon a time, it was filled with various children’s toys, tools, motorcycles, and ATVs. Now, it is empty. Phantom images rise up before your eyes as you envision what it used to look like. Filled with hopeful promises for the future, you walk up to the back door. Taking a deep breath, you unlock it and push it open.
The familiar scent assaults you while you struggle to hold back the tears of joy and sadness. Joy at being back again. Sadness at missing your beloved, deceased grandparents. Memories crowd your mind as you wander down the hallway. The familiar family room, which used to hold Grandpa’s famous rocking chair and the deer head on the wall. The worn wall, where a framed photo of the property back when Grandpa bought it used to hang. The tiny kitchen, where you remember munching on Grandma’s delicious sugar cookies and Grandpa’s buttery popcorn. The dining room, where the old wooden table used to sit, stretched beyond its limit to hold all the family members during the holidays. The living room, which used to hold a proud, upright piano, the comfortable couch you remember sleeping on as a child, and the rocking chair that always scared you when it rocked back too far. Further down the hall, the tiny bedrooms where the floor was always covered with sleeping bags for all the grandkids.
Turning back to the kitchen, you spot your wife and two children walking down the hallway towards you. Smiling at them, you let out a sigh. Your wife’s expression reveals that she is as eager as you are to move into your new house. The past will combine with the present in the hope of a beautiful future. Finally, you are home.