Driving back from a road trip to my hometown with my daughter Jordan has me daydreaming about what my visit, my life, would have been like if I had just one childhood home in a just one town. A single place to visit, to go back and reminisce like in a Sunday afternoon feel-good drama might have been nice. Instead, my first 18 years meant living like a gypsy-girl in ten houses in two different towns. Even with the second part of my life offering a little more stability, I still managed calling four different states home. Visiting all of my old houses required a little extra driving and a lot of piecing together half-forgotten memories.
Pulling up to my dad’s 1950’s greenish rancher in Pasadena, Maryland, where I was born and lived until I was five and my parent’s divorced, I try to recall the handful of early childhood memories collected here. I remember hiding under the kitchen table while my parents argued and most vividly sitting in the front seat of a packed up car as my mom drove us away, my dad literally running after us, begging her to stay. Other than being confused, I can’t remember how I felt about leaving. My mom tells me we did this a few times before it was for good. My dad’s house has been the only constant structure throughout my life. I’ve visited it through the years and watched younger siblings, part of my dad’s new family, grow and change here while the house remained unchanged.
My mom made visiting my second family easy for me when after being divorced several years and living in a tiny house an eternity away in my childish mind (in reality only a few miles), she married my father’s neighbor and we moved only three doors down into an almost identical rancher. This house belonging to my new stepfather the neighbor, was where I grew from a child to a rebellious teenager, had my first party, first drink, and first kiss. Bitter and resenting the sudden attempt at structure and control over me, I caused chaos in this house. They fought often, both about me and their other older children and eventually divorced, launching my mom and me on the move again. I was a teenager at this point, a decade older in my mind at least, I knew it all and was fully ready for the responsibility of taking charge of our future moves… and there were many.
As our lease dates drew near an end in our rented houses, my excitement would build as I scanned the old-fashioned inky papers, pre-internet days of course, in search of the perfect house for us. I loved moving and a new house for me meant a fresh start, a reinvention of our solitude lives. With my mother working full-time and often having a second job, I was left alone most of the time. I went to school, worked odd part-time jobs and lived life as grown up as I could for a teenager not yet old enough to drive. We moved around, in and out of houses in different parts of Pasadena, leaving them behind like once cherished shirts, now stained and un-wearable, no looking back, no second thoughts. When I eventually grew tired of the area, I decided to move us to a quiet area of Severna Park into an old house beaming with character and a big front porch. This house whispered home to me and moving here meant a new high school for me, another chance at a do-over life. But, the new house, and even the new area still left me empty, so as the lease time came near an end, I opted for something different, a nice townhouse with modern amenities, but in the same area. The townhouse didn’t even imprint in my mind. I have no memories of it except knowing it was the last place I’d ever live with my mother.
Once I was old enough to have a driver’s license, I moved out of the townhouse and into an apartment in a private home back in Pasadena. Even though it’s been 20+ years, as Jordan and I drive by, I recall my time here like it was yesterday. I remember beaming with pride as I fixed it up, painting walls, picking carpeting, and furnishing it with my very own money. I went to school and worked earning enough money to support myself and had finally achieved becoming an adult, even if I wasn’t legally one yet. I started dating a much older guy friend who I eventually married. After the marriage, I moved in with my new husband and in-laws on their mini-farm while we built a place of our own on the property.
I slow to an almost stop in front of the place I’d began my life as a wife and mother… and daughter-in-law and tell Jordan the story of my years here. I cringe seeing what the current owners have done to the place. It no longer resembles a small farm, instead there are houses crammed on every possible piece of the land, even the outbuildings have been converted. I recall Nan, my former mother-in-law being really upset about this. While some women marry for money, I married a man I had very little in common with for his… mother, a woman who gave me the stability and connection I’d been searching for and was unable to share with my own mother at the time. Despite a divorce more than a decade ago, we remain close enough Jordan insists Nan is her half-grandmother. I’ve since become close with my own mother.
Memories of my young boys, the UPS man, and different innocent visitors being chased by a rooster, our rooster, come to me. My fault, one year I let the boys use their allowance to buy peeps, not thinking of the possibility of future consequences of one becoming a giant mean terrorizing chicken. One bittersweet day Willy, who after years of terror, met his match when a loose neighbor dog decided on chicken for dinner. Turkeys also roamed on this little farm- Tommy and Angelica, two oversized Twinky-eating, slow-movers who only gathered up enough energy to run when a school bus drove by. I recall random people pulling in to let us know Angelica was sitting on the yellow line in the middle of the road waiting for the school bus…again.
Jordan and I drive North on 83 and cross the state line into Pennsylvania. With the landscape a welcome sight and contrast to the congestion of Maryland, we drive through rolling hills, alongside of streams and farms that dot the valleys. We pass roadside produce stands before passing through the covered bridge driveway that leads to the farm I bought nearly a lifetime ago with my ex-husband. The three story red barn sits at the base of the valley, dwarfing the main house, a cape cod with a wrap around porch. My boys and I used to walk the trail to the top where we’d imagine we were on top of the world. I had big dreams for this place, but lived here a few short months, collecting only a handful of memories before getting a divorce, returning to Maryland and taking a job with my old company.
My ex and his girlfriend live in the main house, so I don’t go there. But walking through the barn Nan converted into a home is like taking a tour back in time to all of my former phases in life, home interior, antique collecting, even an Amish obsession phase I went through. Mementos from probably every house I’ve ever lived dot the walls and rest on counters and shelves like souvenirs of my past. Giving away the once-loved artifacts of my life that no longer suited me was always easy knowing Nan would hang on to and cherish everything. Jordan and I stay the night here on the farm, in the barn, a place I once imagined turning into a country antique store. Visiting this place, seeing my grown boys here again amongst the rolling hills, the stark contrast of our current home in beachy flat coastal Florida makes both Jordan and me smile.
Heading back South into Maryland, we make Annapolis our next stop. After moving a few times, buying and selling a house I bought on my own, I remarry. It was almost eleven years ago Andrew, the boys and I moved into a big house in a small suburb of Annapolis. It was our lucky house, having lived there only 2 1/2 years, we had our baby girl there and sold the house at the height of the real estate bubble. We loved both the house and the area, but the schools not so much, the last straw was when a teenager was stabbed on the local high school bus. With no shot of getting the boys into the already overcrowded private middle and high schools, we decided this would be the perfect time to head South. Not wanting to move the boys too far from their family, we chose a suburb of Richmond and spent a year having a big house built.
Maybe because we helped design it, scrutinizing over every little detail or maybe because we called it home for seven long years, an eternity for me, but this house in Chesdin holds the most memories for all of us. It was constant work and the oversized, high-maintenance golf course yard demanded Andrew’s constant attention. Spacious rooms and living areas kept us all from bumping shoulders, keeping us both apart and sane at times. Avoiding each other is easy with three living rooms. We had a lot of good times here with extended family and friends filling the rooms for birthday parties and holidays. Our humble boys, at times avoided bringing friends home because they were embarrassed of our McMansion, but having neighborhood friends whose houses dwarfed ours made it seem hardly extravagant. It was in this house I watched both of my boys become men. I said goodbye and cried as they pulled out of our long tree-lined driveway, heading for college. This house still holds the laundry room door with measurement of each of my children as they grew. This is the house that made me believe I could curb my wandering soul.
Jordan and I spend our last evening away from our Florida home watching fireworks with some of my best neighborhood friends in Chesdin. I watch without worry as she runs and plays on the driving range with dozens of her old friends, something living in a tourist town with its fair share of homeless, I can never let her do. I wonder if she will be sad thinking of this freedom and friends and former life. Being one who rarely looks back with regret I’m not, but I worry for her. When I ask how she feels, she says she is happy to visit, but can’t wait to get back to our little house in our crazy town. I couldn’t agree more.
I’m happy to have taken this trip through my past and am left with the thought maybe my life turned out exactly the way it was meant to. Maybe my mom did the best she could. That’s all any of us can do. Without all of the moves, perhaps I wouldn’t have had the overwhelming desire to become a traveler. Maybe I would have never stepped outside of my comfort zone and taken my first trip alone. I’ve found my contentment and made my peace with my family and my life and have learned to calm the wanderer in me with little journeys, knowing the life I have in a place I love will be here waiting for me when I return.
Wouldn’t it be a great thing if we all could take a trip to our past and come full-circle with it. I’ve often thought about doing that. My children have no idea where I lived and grew up. Your childhood explains a lot of who you are……who we all are. Good for you taking the time out to visit these places. It was a touching story.
Anytime you’re ready, I’ll be happy to accompany you to your past 🙂