You can go back, but it’s never the same.
I spent the first ten years of my life in a small house in Smyrna, Georgia. After that, my mother moved us to Texas and I’ve been here since. My father lived in that house for many years afterward. I went back inside once or twice, the last time years ago when my next older sister and I went out there to take care of my father. After we got him out of the hospital, we arranged for him to come to Texas to live near us.
At that time, I was an adult looking back at her childhood home. I was floored by how different it looked through grown up eyes. I knew the house was small, but now I realized it was really small. As a child, I had taken it for granted. As an adult, I admired that Dad had built by hand part of it, and how small it must have been before he added on that part.
When I was very young, my mother didn’t sit me or my sisters down in front of the TV. We were sent outside to play in the woods next to our home. I remember running through the trees, entertaining myself, for hours. And yet, when I went back, I saw how small and sparse those “woods” were. At the time, they had been, in my eyes, huge – a forest to play in. Knowing they weren’t didn’t alter my memories or emotions, but it did show me how perspective changes as we age.
I wrote about those woods and that house, letting them be seen through the eyes of a young girl, then showing the change in perspective when the girl returned home as a woman.
On a more recent cross-the-south trip my husband and I took, I re-visited that house. The changes this time around were even bigger – and final.
My husband and I were in South Carolina and the next day we were scheduled to fly out of Atlanta. Try as we might, we couldn’t get back to Atlanta before dark. Smyrna had changed so radically, we ended up having to get a map just to find the area. Once we got close, though, I easily directed him where to turn. That surprised me since it had been so long since my last visit and I had been very young when I actually lived there.
We turned up the street and there was the little house. Except it wasn’t the little house I lived in. The last time I’d seen it, my father still lived there so it was as I remembered it. Now other people lived there. Even the street number had changed.
Because the new people had lights on, I could see the changes. It looked like they’d done some remodeling, enlarging it a little on the side that Dad had added on. The giant holly bush was gone. The driveway had been paved. Siding was up.
The woods were still there. No one had built in that area. I wondered why not, but was glad to see them still there. The area behind my old house, where there used to be a drive-in theatre, looked dark. The rest of the neighborhood seemed welcoming. Still small houses, but well-kept. Before getting there, I half-expected to see bigger homes, the area gentrified or McSized. It’s probably coming.
We sat in the car in front of the house for a while, then I directed him to my old elementary school, about a mile from the house. It, too, had changed. No longer a small building; it was now a complex. I doubt kids still walk to school as we did. That quiet road is now a fast-moving thoroughfare.
It was very different seeing it this time – this last time, I expect. Before that, when we went to get my father, it was still my home. Now it’s someone else’s home. It’s been altered physically, not just by the passing of time and maturation of the child.
It’s something to remember when you’re writing a scene where a person goes home again. Things change not just with time and alterations, but because of perspective, emotions and attachment people and characters have toward the “thing.”
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