Like a fire
“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:
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:
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:
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.