Monday, April 15, 2013

The Pull of Home


Three houses are for sale in my hometown in West Virginia. One is the mirror image of the house I grew up in. Without going inside I know the rooms, the location of the stairs, the rattle of the doorknobs, the view from the kitchen sink.
Compelled to browse the photos online, I see the spot where Dad’s brown chair sat in our house, the window where we used to watch the church traffic in our pajamas. There is the corner where we had the TV, and the stairs; my old bedroom. I study the position of each cabinet and piece of furniture as though the future of humanity depends on it. I briefly consider buying this home, which costs more than the one I’m living in now, just to capture it.
Capture what?
I have no desire to live in a rural town now. I can’t mow the lawn and wouldn’t have the budget to redecorate. My friends are gone. Most important of all, my childhood there was filled with terrible moments. Mom drank. My brother and I can tell stories that would keep you up at night. So, the question I ask repeatedly is: Why am I drawn to the look-alike house? What is this urge that pulls me toward a town and a time from the past? What am I searching for when I imagine going inside our house again, seeing the textured Spanish plaster on the walls, running my hands over the window frames, finding again the secret note I hid behind the woodwork in my closet fifty-two years ago?
Joe and I have had this conversation: Why do we care about a place that brought us misery, a house where both of us suffered as children and subsequently waged lifelong battles for self-esteem?
Is there something irresistible about home, no matter what? I’ve known grown-ups who visited their childhood homes. Some were disappointed to see them in disrepair. Some knocked and were invited in to step once more through rooms they had been holding in their minds. I do that, too; I hold the past in my mind, and maybe it becomes distorted there.
If I knew how to have an out-of-body experience, I would transport my silver-corded self to Glen Ferris and walk through our old house. I half-tried to see it in person once. I had gone back for a funeral, and on the way out of town I turned into our alley, now labeled a private drive. I pulled around to the back walk and saw a woman on the deck that had replaced our little porch off the kitchen. She looked up as if to ask what I thought I was doing there.
“I’m Mrs. Barnett’s daughter,” I said from the car, referencing the seller of twenty years ago. I had taken the detour hoping she would ask me in, but now her manner suggested otherwise, and I drove on.
Which might be why I Google “Glen Ferris real estate” every now and then, scrolling through pictures that tug at my heart. It’s hard to understand; living there was often a nightmare and moving back, a fantasy. Maybe I want to conquer that house after all these years—just walk through it peacefully. Whatever the reason, I continue to feel the pull of home.

14 comments:

  1. Jane!!!!!!!! This is wonderful. So many great lines! "Without going inside I know the rooms," "Silver-corded self" "living there was often a nightmare and moving back, a fantasy." Really,really great stuff. I feel your words. I do.

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  2. Very happy Cat posted this on facebook so that I might read --- beautiful piece. I want to go home too - and not everything in my past was pretty (Putnam Co. WV) but some of it was and that's what I try to remember.
    There's something about going back to a small town, back to when life was simpler. Perhaps that's what we are trying to find.
    Isn't Glen Ferris the town that has the falls along the highway?
    A lovely place for one only passing through.
    Loved reading this. Thanks for sharing.
    Barb Whittington

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    1. Thank you, Barbara. Yes, Glen Ferris is the town with the falls, and back then a simpler life for sure.

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  3. This was great! It took me back to the conversation you & I had about your trip back to Glen Ferris. Maybe you should go back and ask the woman if you could look around. I would never deny anyone that. I went with my good friend Debby to her home town in West Virginia! We pulled up in front of her old house and a gentleman opened the front door. He invited her to come in and she was very excited! She felt a tremendous sense of happiness! It may bring you some kind of closure.
    Now I am going to Google Glen Ferris real estate to satisfy my curiosity!
    Great post Jane! I Love the way you write!

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    1. That's right, we have talked about this. Google Jeannie's Real Estate in Clay, WV, and click on Fayette County on the map. The house is the second listing, a yellow duplex.

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  4. I love this, Jane! I think we've all felt the pull of home at one time or another. I have an aunt who actually purchased the old family home and goes back often to spend weeks at a time. She claims she's in paradise when she's there. I mourned when told that the home I grew up in was torn down and replaced with a new one! The American Proverb, "There's no place like home," surely refers to the home of our childhood. If it doesn't, it should!
    Wonderful piece!

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  5. Thanks, Peggy. I'm sorry about your family home. Even though most of us don't go back after a certain point, we (at least, I) want it to be there.

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  6. Another poignant post, Jane. Your thoughts always touch me. I laugh and cry with you.

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    1. Thanks, Mary. I appreciate your comments.

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  7. Nearly every one of us can go back to our old residences (if the dwelling still stands)and some families pass the home place down generation to generation. For me when I think of home, I recall being nurtured, riding my bike until dark in the summer, mom's delicious meals and just making memories to take into adulthood b/c one has to grow up. It is good to focus on the good times and not the time my arm was broken in 3 places b/c a girl thought it funny to knock me from the hand walker when I was in third grade. Thank you for another trip into my memories that always include home.

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    1. Thanks, Betty. Home is lots of things, and it seems that whatever home is, we take it with us. I was so eager to let go of mine, but I guess it didn't let go of me.

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  8. Finally just getting around to reading this--so glad I did! The pull of home can be confusing yet quite irresistible, as you've shown us with your powerful words.

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    1. Hi Daleen. Thanks. I'm thinking of taking my 10-year-old granddaughter to Glen Ferris this summer, as she's never seen my hometown, which is also the hometown of her great- and great-great-grandmas.

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