We met a guy who grew up on our farm.
He was the drummer in the band who played at a benefit held in our barn Saturday night. A friend told us he’d heard the guy talking about his childhood here, so John and I hunted him down immediately. We felt as though we were meeting a celebrity.
We had so many questions to ask him. He had so many stories to tell…
He told us about our farm from the perspective of a schoolboy who would jump from the hay loft and swing across on a rope….or hide in the giant fig tree by the road with his brother and throw rocks at cars until they finally hit one. He described their many animals and where they were kept. He painted pictures in the air of where old trees once stood and where crops were grown. He talked about taking the bus to school and summers at the river.
We invited him to come in the house and tell us more. He bashfully accepted. When he walked in the house, his eyes were wide. He had to puzzle his way through, navigating the house in his memory at the same time as this remodeled version. Where there were two rooms – one for his sister and the other for him and his brother – was now one master bedroom. Where his parents’ bedroom once stood, the staircase and dining room are now. He regained his bearings though, and the stories began to flow again. His eyes glowed and turned upward as he smiled and laughed at turns, in a world all his own. He shared visions of his mother baking in the antique wood stove that had been in the same spot since the house was built in 1906. He told the story of scrambling through the attic crawl space on a dare, only to fall through the ceiling right in front of his dad. The windows and the doors, the molding and the bathtub….all the same. He wandered the house searching for these familiar signs of his first lifetime. Our kids were riveted and gazed at him as he described the house and the way the family there lived in it 25 years ago.
“This means so much to him,” his wife said to me in low tones. “He’s been wanting to come here for the 22 years we’ve been married. We drive by here regularly….and he loves to point things out and tell the kids stories from his childhood. When he found out this gig was in that barn, he was over the moon. He said ‘Finally. I get to go back to the old barn.’ This is like a dream come true to him.”
Over dinner that night, he mentioned a time five years ago when the previous owners opened the barn as an art gallery. He visited, striking up a conversation about the fact that he grew up there, hoping to be invited to take a look around. He was sorely disappointed when the couple didn’t offer. He was aching for it by then. He wanted to visit his home.
My own sister took a brief pilgrimage to our childhood home in South Dakota (over 1700 miles from where we live now). She and her husband pulled up in front of the house and decided they should ask permission to take photos. My sister went to the door and introduced herself to the owner, explaining our family had lived there in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
“Are you an Adams?” he asked. She was. “I went to the university when your dad was the dean. He hired me to paint this house 40 years ago, and I vowed one day I would own it. My wife was a grade school teacher back then….”
It turned out my sister was in his wife’s very first class when she was a freshly minted grade school teacher. What are the chances? There was a class picture in our old bedroom with my sister in it. There was a picture of my dad, too, at an academic competition this man was in as a college student.
They graciously let my sister wander through the house. It was an emotional experience for her. We later pored over the many photographs my sister took, each one bringing back vivid memories of moments, routines, stories….noticing favorite spots and recalling how we used each space.
Just like the drummer on our farm.
A home is not just a place. While not every home has the same importance in your life, the home you grew up in is frozen into your very soul. Whether your childhood was joyful or terrifying, your first perception of the whole world happened there. You found comfort there. Whether in a small, secret place all your own in the attic, or on the warm, loving lap by the fireplace. To revisit it is poignant and precious and sacred. It’s where your story began.
I believe the home you grew up in is yours. Forever. You may not be the owner any more, but you should always be allowed to visit.
So the day someone comes to your door and says, “I grew up here”, swing open that door and say, “Welcome home.”
If I could walk around I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that