Like a fire

The home in East Point, Georgia where I grew up, as seen in the mid 1960’s.

“A place that ever was lived in is like a fire that never goes out.”Eudora Welty

The house pictured above is the place I will always think of as my childhood home. I’ve returned there, just to drive by it, several times since my parents first moved away more than twenty years after that photo was made, and I’ve been happy to see that the house and the neighborhood still look lovely to me.

This is not the first home I remember, though. That distinction belongs to this house in Hapeville, Georgia, where we moved when I was a toddler who had already lived briefly in two other states:

Daddy photographed our home after a rare snowfall, probably in 1958 or 1959.

Oddly, I don’t remember ever going back to see this home, though I had very fond (if vague) memories of the wonderful park across the street. Recently before a planned trip to Atlanta, Drew mentioned that we might take Grady and Owen to the Dwarf House, which Chick-Fil-A fans might know as the place where it all started.

I knew the Dwarf House was in Hapeville, and for the first time I can remember, I wondered whether it might be fun to go see that old home. For reasons I don’t quite understand, I spent over an hour on a google map search of the surrounding area neighborhoods to see if any of them looked familiar. When I saw photos of the park during one of the searches, I was hit with that startling “ping” of recognition not unlike the emotion one might feel at a chance meeting of a dearly loved person long absent from one’s life. I looked at the street name, and it too rang a distant bell somewhere in my memory. I called my sister, who would be meeting us in Atlanta, and we made excited plans to go back and visit the house, and the neighborhood.

So, after landing at ATL and filling our stomachs with Chick-Fil-A sandwiches at the Dwarf House (where Owen was fascinated with the tiny dwarf door that was just his size), we drove the short distance to what we believed was our old neighborhood. We were delighted to find that it was still a charming and well-kept community. We got out of the car and stepped into our past.

“Magical” is an overused word, but it’s the first one that comes to mind in describing the experience. “Nostalgia” doesn’t capture it at all, because it wasn’t connected to any specific conscious memories. It was more like being transported to a place of belonging, almost a state of being, that was unexpectedly familiar. I felt like a tiny child again, running excitedly through the park that I had remembered as being much more enormous than it appears to me now.

The wooden bridge over the creek had been replaced with a stone structure, and a playground area with newer equipment had been added. But otherwise it was unmistakable, and now I had the surreal feeling of watching my grandsons running through that same park, the younger of whom was about the same age I had been while we lived there.

The really funny thing was that we remembered the park with more certainty than we remembered the front of our home– neither Carla nor I could be sure which of two different houses across the street had been our own. Later we went back to Mama and Daddy’s last home in Fayetteville, where our younger brother now lives. He wasn’t even born during those years, but he pointed us to the old photos where we located the picture posted above. There was no doubt now which house had been ours, and it has held up well during the nearly 60 years since the first photo was taken:

Other than an awning and added masonry veneer, little has changed in 60 years.

But it was the park that will stay in my memory and in my heart. I somehow had forgotten to bring my camera (the photo above was taken by Carla’s husband George, who used his cell phone) but here’s a photo of my older brother, older sister and me, having fun there 60 years ago. You’ll have to trust me that, unlike us, the park looks almost exactly like this now. Our home is visible in this photo, too. It’s a photo of a photo– I didn’t have access to a scanner — so the quality is lacking, but perhaps the enchantment will come through:

Eric, Carla and me, in an enchanted world called childhood — probably 1959.

When I read Welty’s quote, I thought immediately of our visit back to our Hapeville home. “A fire that never goes out” is a very good way to describe it. Much depends on what kind of fire it is; for some, early memories of home can be dangerous and even destructive, and maybe best forgotten. But for most of us, despite less than perfect memories, home can be a life-sustaining force that warms the world until the end of our days.

Do you remember your childhood home(s)? Have you been back to visit? Feel free to share memories of your own “fire that never goes out.” Millions of homes all over the world are chock-full of stories just waiting to be told.

24 Comments

  1. Lani

    Wow, Julia……..I remember the East Point house and I know those emotions of which you speak when you step back into that time. I have had that experience, but as you know, my parents never moved. Hard to believe we are as ‘old’ as we are and all the memories and emotions that come with the various ‘homes’ we lived in (schools, churches, towns, work). I’m glad that you were able to go back, with Carla and son/grandsons, and visit some pieces of your life – a great experience I’m sure. I still look forward to seeing you one day! Hugs to you.

    • Lani, I’m so glad you remember that house. Somewhere I have a photo of another home you might remember. 🙂 I tried to find it to post for you here, but I couldn’t locate it. I remember taking several black and white photos with my cheap plastic camera and K-Mart film, of us all playing on the playground at the school near your home. What I really wish I had, though, was a video of your Dad playing the guitar and his “surprise” vocals that went with it. Do you remember that? I’m grinning just remembering it. We were lucky kids, weren’t we? Hugs right back to you!

  2. Chris

    Julia, thank you for this post. Oh what memories it brings back. I do remember each home that I lived in as a child. There were only three. All three are in the same small town in NC, Cherryville. And yes, I’ve driven by them on many occasions; although, not recently. And the last one, where we moved when I was 12, in 1967, is the one I remember most. It’s the home my brothers and I grew up in while enduring the high school years. Needless to say, there were many memories made in that place! I can’t even begin to tell you the stories; I could write a book! 😊 Yes, the embers are forever smoldering!
    You and Matt have a great week! It’s getting warm here. 🌞

    • Chris, thanks for the heads up on this comment — I found it in the spam filter, for no good reason I can determine. From time to time a comment from a “regular” will end up there, so I normally search diligently through the accumulated spam before permanently deleting it. But I don’t do that very often, so I had no idea this one was in there. Thanks for letting me know! I marked it “not spam” so hopefully this won’t happen to you again.

      I love North Carolina. I had never heard of Cherryville so I looked it up and it’s not too far from I-85 just outside Charlotte (a lovely town that reminds of Atlanta before it got so big). I laughed when you wrote of “enduring the high school years.” There are probably many of us who feel that way about that supposedly idyllic time of life. Some people might identify with John Hughes films, but for me, Napoleon Dynamite was much closer to the actual experience! 😀 Maybe someday you can write that book, if only for your grandchildren. Have a great week and enjoy springtime!

  3. I love reading about other’s childhood memories of home. After 35 moves, there were only places we lived but one or two stand out more than others. Most were base housing and going back isn’t exactly an option but the one in Germany was. I took my sister there and did a post on it in her stories. I’ve driven by my old California house once or twice and googled a house we owned for a year in Mississippi and the kids grandparents homes which were also transitory. My son even knocked on the door of my parents home to explain why they were staring at it and they were invited in. I let the son of the builder of the last house I lived in with his girlfriend so he could show her the woodwork they did as they had lived in the house for 2 years. Those memories ground us to places. So much fun to see them again. Thanks for sharing your memories.

    • M, you certainly have a lot to remember! I’m glad you’ve been able to re-visit at least a few of these places. Base housing is torn down and replaced every few decades, but perhaps Germany is different. So many of us (including me) have had moments such as the one you describe with your son, where we are invited into what was once our home. Everyone understands that tug on the heart and it’s an affirmation of common humanity that we will throw our doors open to total strangers who once lived in the same home where we now live. You are right, there is something that grounds us. It really is a sort of foundation or as Welty says, “a fire that never goes out.” Thanks for sharing with us here!

  4. I felt that “magic” come through your words. I grew up in a mining town in Northern Canada that is now a ghost town since the mine closed down. My home was demolished – it is no more. But I have wonderful photos of the many gatherings and family moments. I am thankful for my parents who made us a home no matter where we lived.

    • Wow, a mining town in Northern Canada sounds almost legendary. I suppose there are many, many “ghost towns” where mines once operated. Have you seen the BBC Masterpiece series Poldark? I just love it, for many reasons, and the mining story lines (set in Cornwall) are fascinating to me. Watching it, I realized how little I really knew about mining. I wish your home was still there but I am glad you still have the photos and memories. It sounds trite but it really is true that anyplace is home if we make it so. And it sounds as if you had great parents. I so agree with Augusten Burroughs who wrote:”If you have two parents who love you? You have won life’s Lotto.”

      • Poldark is a favourite of mine. I never read the books, but I have enjoyed the BBC Masterpiece series. Brilliant!

        • That scene where the common people are outside Trenwith about to riot, and everyone thinks Ross has gone off to war, and he rides up on his horse and saves the day has got to be one of the most dashing, unapologetically romantic scenes I’ve ever watched (especially when George asks him why he returned and. by way of answer, he simply lifts his wife up onto his horse and rides off with her). I guess the tempestuous but inviolable nature of his relationship with Demelza is appealing to me because, though the details are different, I can identify. 🙂

  5. Carolyn

    Yes, I remember my childhood home. The last time I saw It was a long time ago . The people that had it didn’t take care of it. My grandmother lived with us and did a wonderful job doing the yard and just doing what she could to make everything look nice on the outside. Many story’s happy and sad ones. I am getting over cataract surgery. Doing fine. Love to all.

    • Carolyn, I wish the people who later lived in your home had someone like your Grandmother to help take care of it. I suppose happy and sad stories are what life is about when you get right down to it. Hope your cataract surgery wasn’t too unpleasant. Those I know who have had it say that the improvement in their vision is remarkable. Hoping to see you in June! It will be here before we know it. ❤

  6. Harry Sims

    Thank you Julia for this pleasant reverie.

    But, “You Can’t Go Home Again” — Thomas Wolfe.

    Harry

    • Harry, my Daddy used to tell me that ALL THE TIME. The point is well taken. Returning is much easier when, as with this visit, there are no expectations about what one might find.

  7. Good morning, Julia!
    I was fortunate that one of my childhood homes was purchased by our former neighbor (apparently after we’d sold it to some people who made for “awful neighbors,” which was why our former neighbor snatched it up the next time it went up for sale – they then rented it to their daughter and her college friends, and took care of it. I don’t know who has had it since.) So we were able to visit when Kathy lived there, and were invited in once when my parents were in town.
    Nowadays, people (at least in urban Minnesota) don’t seem so inclined to answer their doors, so visiting inside the former home might not be as likely.

    • Susan, that is really cool that your former neighbors “took custody” of the home when it was in the wrong hands. I’m glad you got to go back. It’s sad but true that people in today’s world are (justifiably) fearful of strangers at the door. Perhaps these spontaneous invitations to visit a former home will be yet another relic of a vanished past– not just for this reason, but also because future generations may be less emotionally attached to their homes after growing up with their faces in device screens much of the time. So they may be less inclined to visit. Oh well, yet another reason I’m glad that I was born when I was. 🙂

  8. Constance W Reed

    Loved your blog! Just last week I googled my childhood home in East Point and I also had floods of great memories. Pictured below. I do remember your home well and all the fun we had there! Hope you are doing well!

    https://www.redfin.com/GA/East-Point/2868-Blossom-Ln-30344/home/24680527

    • Connie, I remember your beautiful home! It was right beside the high school and I remember walking up there to have dinner with your family one day after drill team tryouts. You lived next door to Mike, Marcia and Steve C., right? Thanks for sharing that photo. What a lovely neighborhood that was. I knew that they made the school into a middle school shortly after we graduated. Someone said that Mt. Olive Elementary had finally been torn down. The last time Carla and I were there, it looked good– really just like it looked when we were kids, but I guess it was out of date. What fond memories! I am so glad you are here to share them with us.

  9. Constance W Reed

    You see? You brought back more good memories I had for gotten about. Yes, they did live next door. I saw Steve on Facebook the other day. My oh my how we have all changed!
    Take care!!

    • ❤ 🙂 ❤

  10. Sheila

    Julia, the enchantment came through so vividly and it was so delightful to visit these special places as we recall our own! I’ve had the same sensation that you mention when I’ve revisited various homes and areas. In our 50 years (of marital bliss) we’ve lived so many places but 428 won our hearts as we somehow knew it’s grandeur would be in it’s location by the sea! We laugh as we call ourselves “The Moving Vann’s”! What fun to go back to the original Chick-Fil-A. That’s quite the history lesson and I shared with my granddaughter, Autumn, who just happens to be a new employee at our local one. I was surprised at how many new Chick-Fil-A’s open every week across the country. 🐥💛🇺🇸 Loved the blog, again! ♥️

    • Sheila, “the moving Vanns” — I love it!! Isn’t it a blessing to have lived in and enjoyed many different places, and yet be totally content where you are now? So happy to learn that Autumn is working at Chick Fil A. We had a friend who worked there and he got really good benefits, including (I think) assistance with his college tuition. I’m so happy you liked the blog. Thanks for being here. Race you to the Verandah for tea in the swing!! 😀

  11. Lydia

    I was blessed that my father built the house where we grew up. He built one room and little by little he added additional rooms. We had quite a tiny house with a big yard with chickens, lots of flowers, a couple of trees and few neighbors. There were six children so we always had playmates. Lots of wonderful memories. The house has changed over the years, but it’s still in the family, now surrounded with very close neighbors.

    • Lydia, that is so wonderful that the home is still in the family, with the bonus of new neighbors! Clearly, your father was ahead of his time. Six children in the family would be another blessing. Sadly, one that is increasingly lacking in today’s world. I have few regrets in life but given the direction my life has taken now, if I had it to do over, I might have stuck with my original intention to have 4 or 5 kids myself. After Matt was born, we worried that his disabilities would take too much time for us to be able to handle another child. And of course, that was true in one sense. But I wish now that Matt had more siblings in his life. Ah well, hindsight is 20/20 and it’s useless to look back and speculate. In any case, I appreciate your sharing your story with us. It makes me smile to picture your home that your Daddy built, complete with chickens, flowers and friends! The memories must be a continual gift for you. Thanks for being here.

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