All those years ago, my mother moved out of the house I called home for eighteen years. She didn't need all that space. She needed a smaller place to hold her stuff. Her kids were gone. Her husband was gone. There was no need for all those empty rooms and full basement. And though I was happily ensconced in California, I died a little inside when my older brother sent me a videotape of the old homestead without a stick of furniture, and bare walls, and free of us. I still have dreams about that house.
That's why, when I had the chance to go back inside, after nearly twenty years, I took it. The walls of the kitchen had been opened up, so you could see from the kitchen sink all the way out to the dining room. The half bath off my parents' bedroom had been merged with the full bath that was just around the corner from the bedroom I shared with my older brother. The walls that had once been papered with New Yorker covers were now painted a dusky rose. My little brother's room had been converted into an office as we all grew up and away was still an office. The stairway no longer had a gate at the top. Maybe it didn't need one anymore without any little children wandering around. I checked for the hole I had kicked in the wall of my parents' bedroom in a fit of youthful angst. My lumpy attempt at drywall repair had been replaced by a nice smooth finish and new spackling. As I ran my hand over the spot, I was sure I could feel a small depression where I had once pushed my luck just a little too far.
I felt a smaller depression growing inside, and as I looked at my niece who had been kind enough to come along on this magical mystery tour, I could see it on her face as well. All those years collapsed into a few short minutes as we reckoned with the changes that twenty years can bring. This wasn't grandma's house. The sink in the kitchen wasn't the one in the photo of her making chocolate chip cookies. The windows we looked out no longer showed a patio roof with corrugated plastic, or a crab apple tree. All of that was gone.
But not forgotten. When we climbed back in the car to drive the two miles to grandma's new house, there was uncomfortable talk about not being able to go back there. But I know I will. In my dreams.