We take one last trip of summer, pile twelve deep into a van. We drive through the streets of my childhood, streets I know by heart but can’t navigate on my own. I never drove them, still haven’t. We moved from Columbus, Indiana when I was only eleven and this is the first time my husband and children have seen where I grew up.
Thirty years ago, Dad built that fence on the right. I remember the day he drove the wood into the ground, made a three-sided line around our grass, the house closing up the square. That house holds every memory I have for the first decade of my life. Strangers live there now. Maybe in twenty-five years, the children in that small white house will drive by with their own van filled with people, hearts full, hands empty.
Maybe they will remember the alley out back where they ran barefoot, gravel hardening soft feet with every step, arms filled with Barbies, ears keen for the carnival sound of the ice cream truck, eyes filled with wonder.
Nothing was ever going to change.
Grandma would live forever.
Sisters would always share rooms.
Saturdays would always mean donuts.
Dad would always hold beers.
Home would always be Gladstone Avenue.
It hurts to go back and remember, mostly because we can’t re-create it. My heart begs my eyes to see again, but I can’t un-see what is now there. We have lived so many lives in this one lifetime since then.
Standing in that alley on Halloween night so many years ago, I couldn’t have imagined change would ever be good. But I was four, so what did I know? Life was hard then, not that I realized it at the time. I haven’t fully processed what it meant to me to see my childhood home through adult eyes, my own children nearly as old as I was when we left, my husband holding my hand.
We look at the same buildings and streets and fields. But what was see is completely different. It’s difficult to accept that these people who are now my people can never really understand my past.
I look over on the seat next to me, my sister’s eyes as wide as mine, Mom telling a story behind us, Dad pulling out photos from the 80s. And I can’t believe it, but for a moment time is suspended. These are my people, too. Maybe Mom once felt like I do right now, and maybe her mom before us. We grow and move and change and make new people who do the same. At least we hope so.
We need the whole mix of them, this community of people put together by God. And it hurts to know them sometimes, to let them know me. But this is family, community, and in many ways, a picture of the church. Some of them remember as well as I do, others remember better and the youngest ones just want to get back to the hotel so they can play.
Some things are not for everyone to know, some gifts and lessons are only for those who lived through it. I’m learning to accept that and maybe even be thankful for it.
The van pulls out of the neighborhood, someone mentions Starbucks. The kids are having a bubblegum blowing contest in the back.
I smile, full.