It's taken me a long time to go back remembering the house that had been there my entire life with any tiny sliver of fondness. It was the place where I spent my last day with my son, sure. But more than that it was the place where I lived with my Dad when I was young, where I got my first broken bone, where I made my first pie from scratch, where I learned how to make taffy and where I was allowed to stay up all night watching My So Called Life marathons that my parents would have never let me watch.
It had a perma-smell of moth balls, fried okra and salmon patties, roast beef in the crock pot and potpourri. And every now and then, if she felt fancy, that sprinkly stuff that you put on the carpet before vacuuming. It smelled like cherry pie, microwave-roasted peanuts in the shell, homemade biscuits, and the waffle iron. The yard always smelled like a mixture of roundup and roses. The carport reeked of motor oil and gasoline. This house had more smells than any home I have ever remembered living in.
In the warm months, it was hot and sticky because they were cheap and didnt believe in using air conditioning, even during the high summers in Alabama. So, all the windows were wide open and throughout the day you couldnt keep track of how many times you'd hear the squeaky spring sound as the screen door opened and the loud slam of it shutting. It was a lot of times.
In the cold winters of Alabama, it never really gets much below 40 degrees. But they kept the heat cranked. Along with this fake fireplace that supposedly let off heat but was really for looks. It hung on the wall in the den and had a metal screen in front of it with a plastic fire that had a rotating light inside. It kind of always smelled of burning plastic. But I would get so excited when they turned it on. The den is where they spent most of their time, in recliners, watching tv.
Their house was set up in a way that you could run around in circles, through the kitchen to the tiny bathroom, through their bedroom, to the hallway that went to all the other bedrooms, through the living room, and the back to the kitchen. We spent so much time in that kitchen. My Mimi was no Martha Stewart, but she knew the basics of how to make stuff and I can honestly say that before she died she'd brag like it was one of her life's greatest achievements about how she taught me to cook. And it was- she was proud of it. She passed away in the den of that house when my oldest daughter was just 6 weeks old. It was the first major family death of my life.
The outside of the house was olive green with maroon shutters and a black roof. It had a front yard that was to the left of the driveway. The driveway, where Daddy and I poured concrete to make it a little wider so that Mimi's red Chevette wouldnt kill the grass every time she pulled in. My little 4 year old handprints are still there, right next to my Dad's 22 year old handprints. The front of the house used to have a weeping willow until 1993 when they cut it down and planted red and yellow tulips and lillies in its spot. The front of the house, like any good southern home, was lined with bright pink azaleas and purple pansies. The side of the house was filled with baby pink knockout roses, dark purple calla lillies and pink buttercups. Oh, and of course, the boat and RV. I spent so many nights I sleeping in the RV as a kid. Papa was so proud that he finally had a real RV. The whole time my dad was growing up they had a modified Lay's potato chip truck. It smelled kind of like a mixture of the lake and moldy carpet.
The back yard held a red and white, rusty, polka-dotted swing set from my fathers childhood, where I played as a kid. The back porch was bright red and took up most of the yard. It was constantly littered with maple leaves and was the inspiration for the maple seeds (otherwise known as helicopters) that are tattooed on the top of my feet. When you walked down the steep porch stairs and into the back yard you were right between two pecan trees, where we gathered pecans every other year. You couldnt walk out there barefoot because the ground was so filled with pecan shells, from the ones that we tossed aside because they were no good. The clothesline was just beyond it, and I remember all the times that Mimi ran out in the rain to get her clothes, barefoot, saying fake curse words the whole time because the pecan shells were digging into her feet. She'd come inside and say, "Jack, you've got to get a rake to those pecans. Ive tore my feet apart." And he'd sit in his recliner flipping through all the channels on the tv and respond, "Or, you could wear shoes."
It's hard to remember that backyard so fondly and smile. That backyard is a place I can only return to in my memories. Not only because of Charlie's death, which does indeed prevent me from ever returning, but also because my grandfather has since sold the house. I have so many wonderful memories there. And as beautiful as all of those memories are, I keep waiting for it to stop being the back yard that I woke to find my son dead in. The pecans I stepped on while running to the truck to rush to the hospital. The house I spent our last day in. The calla lilles we dug up to take home. The the knockout roses I'd picked the day before to take to my grandmother's gravesite. I wish to return to it being a simple, innocent place where I grew up, where I learned to cook and how to sew and can fondly remember my grandparents without the my son's death casting a shadow upon the 28 years of memories I had there before he was born.
It was such a beautiful place to grow up, I wish I hadnt lost two of the people that I love the most there. But to be honest, there is no good time or place for someone you love so much to die.