I keep my eyes closed as I approach the house. It’s set back from the road with a large front lawn but my steps are sure and I don’t falter. In the corner of the property I admire the magnificent, stately maple tree – a mere stick when my sister stuck it in the ground over 60 years ago.
Continuing up the driveway, I pause to watch the
blond-haired girl on a new red bicycle; Dad’s holding on to the seat but I know it’s not going to be enough to stop me from going into the ditch. I turn away before that happens and glance to the left between the house and the hedgerow – winter winds howl through there, creating a huge snow drift and a perfect winter playground.
My eyes still closed, I pass the beautiful yellow rose bush that was buried when Mum and Dad landscaped the yard. That same face lift removed the front porch where a boy who had been sweet on me in grade four had carved his initials. Standing on the “new” front step I linger over the memory of a kiss from my future husband.
My next step carries me across the threshold onto the red slate tile of our vestibule. As I slip through this portal into the past, images left hanging there bloom again in full colour, the voices of my parents clearly heard across the years. Our Basset issues a deep-chested bark in greeting as she follows me on my tour … passing through the living room I avoid the mantle where I hit my head, and pass the pencil markings on the door jamb chronicling my growth … there’s the desk Dad made for me to do my homework on. My bed sits in the corner where I left it and Jack Frost has painted beautiful mosaics on my window.
Making my way back, I push on the swinging door and enter the kitchen with the dark blue linoleum floor. The kitchen blinds are pulled aside and Mum watches Dad trying to start the car. I can hear her, “C’mon Jezebel, c’mon Jezebel”, as the old Vanguard barely turns over in the cold. The kitchen runs the whole width of the house and on a rainy, house-bound day my sister and I pestered Mum to distraction until she gave in … we sprinkled flour all over that floor. I glimpse at Mum as the door swings closed behind her – whoops and squeals still bounce off the walls as first one, then the other of us runs and slides the length of the kitchen.
The basement stairs descend from the kitchen in a long flight into the basement. Dad is silhouetted in front of the red-hot coals, stoking the furnace – the delivery truck had dumped that black, sooty coal through the cellar window into the coal bin.
The French doors off the dining room never did open onto anything but air, the dreamed of patio never materialized. But beyond Dad is hosing down the skating rink and the winter wind is blowing spray back over him. He’s going to be cold when he comes in.
For a moment I step out onto the back porch. One winter day my sister told me to touch my tongue to the metal railing there and I learned two lessons – don’t touch freezing objects with anything wet, and don’t trust my sister.
The sweet scent of the lilacs growing by the porch still lingers. Mum gave me fresh cuttings to take to my teacher and now the smell of lilacs is forever associated with a June day long ago.
My eyes are still closed but I find my way unerringly back to the living room and here we are cocooning on a blustery winter Saturday, a wood fire burning in the fireplace, the room strewn with weekend newspapers; the card table is still set up where Sister and I sat doing paint-by-numbers. Right now we all have our feet up watching a 1940s movie on the TV’s Saturday matinée – laughing and crying as a family …
I reluctantly open my eyes as I pass back through the portal, and I see not the young girl who lives behind my eyelids, but a grey-haired grandmother … and I smile.