Sunday, April 25, 2010

Going Home

We went to see our family's house yesterday. We nostalgically drove by and saw a for sale sign out front. Its located in North West Washington, DC at Westmoreland Circle. I love the neighborhood and I especially love it at this time of the year when the azalia's are in full bloom in a multitude of bright colors against the green of the Spring.

My grandparents bought the house in 1942 for $9,000. My dad and aunt sold in approximately 20 years ago - in most of its original condition - for around $300,000. It is currently for sale for $897,000.

My Aunt Virginia got married in the back yard to a young man she loved her whole life. She still spoke of Kal close to her death in 1995. They were only married for a few years before he was killed in World War II in a tank. We still have photos of Aunt Virginia in her wedding gown; sitting beneath a tree on a cement bench that was still in the yard when the house was sold. On an opposite fence, my dad had painted a snake for my sister and I to find within the ivy, which remained there most of my life. Dad's sandcastings of fish and turtles hung on the back fence.

The entire house was renovated around 1990 by one of the new owners who most likely renovated and turned it over at a profit. The realtor stated that the house was built in 1924, but I don't believe that to be true. Even in the 40's, the area had only dirt roads and few houses.

You know - you remember things about your family home like smells and memories. Somehow, everything seems bigger from a child's perspective. Even if it had been in its original condition now, it still wouldn't have been the same. We spent every holiday in that house together as a family with people who are now passed on. It was our gathering place - the place where we all used to return to in good times and bad. My aunt and my father have both passed away. My niece is in college. My nephew might have gathered with us at the house if we still owned it, but he's growing up too and might not have wanted to be around.

Everything has changed.

The entire place was renovated, with the exception of the fireplace and some of the wood floors. Our old windows that creeked when opened were replaced by energy-efficient models. The round portal window at the end of the hall was gone; a square one with no place for a childs' imagination. The bedroom that I shared summers with my sister in my grandmother's antique twin beds was gone. The window we spent hours at dreaming of far away places (like Kuwait) from behind my aunt's sheer white curtains was gone. Gone was the attic that used to frighten us as children; replaced by vaulted ceilings on the 2nd floor. Gone was the creepy basement, replaced by a finished basement which no longer housed spiders and creepy things.

When we grew up, the house didn't have air conditioning. Hot, humid summers in DC were hard, especially when we had to sleep with fans on. To this day, my sister can't sleep without a fan. My aunt's bedroom, which had formerly been my grandparents', was changed. I had hoped that the claw-footed antique bathtub would still be there in the bathroom down the hall, but it was replaced by a modern tub and fixtures. There was a round, modern glass accent table in the middle of what used to be our family dining room; where my Aunt Virginia would put out the white lace and crystal for special occassions. It was all very Southern. My Aunt Virginia maintained the Southern traditions of my Southern grandmother, serving Southern foods with Southern manners. All those old traditions and some more recent ones from my childhood are gone. The bathroom balcony where my sister and used to jump off and sneak out of the house at night was gone. There was no more flowered wallpaper, no more textures of our memories. Nothing resembled what it used to be.

I met Shamlan for the first time in that house. His cousin brought him over and introduced him to my father and most of my family. I snuck out of the house to meet him late at night after everyone was asleep (and where I later got caught sneaking back in by my angry father). This house was where my dreams of going to the Middle East began. This was the house that built me.

My aunt's dogwood tree was replaced by a shrub. However the magnolia tree in the back yard had been spared and grown to perhaps upwards of 50 feet tall. The front door was replaced by a bay window. Our front porch where my sister and I spent hours with my dad and my aunt listening to family stories and watching the cars go by was replaced by a a shiny new door. The blue chairs that were there for decades no doubt sold somewhere - maybe at yard sales.

My sisters and I still dream about happy times in the house, but like they say, you can never go home. We now all congregate in Virginia at my younger sister's house which has become the gathering place of our family. She has become our "glue" holding all of our scattered pieces together at the new home.


Snow said...

It's really kinda sad, the same thing happened to my grandparents home, they bought it in the 40's for some little amount, and after they passed, it was sold. Driving by it reminds me of how quickly life passes by. The only thing I can do now is to make memories for my children in our house and tell them stories and pictures about their grandpa and great-grandparents.

ridwan said...

Loved this! I guess an article like this reminds us all of the old houses that we've seen never be the same. I guess in the end, when I wish my "grandmother's house still around" what I'm really wishing is my grandmother was still around with all the things that she did and said! In the end, we see the houses standing there--or some shadows of what they were-- and it's a great thing that they can bring back all those memories!
(Also, I'm from Mount Pleasant--oh I miss DC!)

Anonymous said...

Dear DG,

Great story! This post brought me to tears, as I remembered so many little things I've missed about my family and my childhood memories, but never took the time to stop and reflect upon!
Reading this post I felt a huge sense of void where there used to be regular family visits, smells and sounds.

It is amazing how a house can shape you as a human being.

I miss "HOME".