If you measure wealth by how much stuff we had, I grew up poor. But in every other way that matters, my childhood was wealthy beyond belief.
Two days ago, my childhood home went up for sale. It needed to happen because Mom and Buzz need to move to a place without stairs and without a yard to take care of.
But it saddens me. It’s my childhood home.
I bet your home was bigger and nicer than ours. But I can’t imagine it being warmer.
The computer room you see today was once my old bedroom. It’s where I played with Legos and built model airplanes and hung a life sized poster of Archie Bunker on the door, not because I watched All in the Family in those days, but because the poster was free and the one with Farrah wasn’t.
It’s the room where I listened through a tiny earpiece to a diode radio I wired up using my Radio Shack 150-in-1 Electronics Kit. The reception was bad so I bought a long piece of copper wire and some plastic insulators and nailed it up under the eave starting just outside my bedroom window and ending above the porch in the front of the house. Mom wasn’t happy when she came home from work that day and saw my makeshift antenna, but she was impressed with my ingenuity, so she let me keep it even though it was “an eyesore.” I was glad because the antenna helped me pull in Robyn Weaver playing Top 40 on WIRL-AM out of Peoria and the Cardinal game on 1470am.
It’s the room where Geddy, Alex, Neal, and I performed 2112 as loudly as my Technics receiver would allow.
Traci’s room was the front bedroom and I was jealous of her and it for two reasons. First, she had a double closet. (“It’s not fair!”) But mostly because she had two windows which provided an immense benefit that my room could not: a cross breeze on sweltering nights. Both she and Mom experienced the simple joy of air movement while I lay in bed sweating, developing a new batch of young boy funk shortly after washing off the old funk in my semi-nightly bath. I cheered the year John Hadley installed an exhaust fan in the kitchen window that pulled a man-made breeze through my bedroom window each night. It was glorious! The miracle of central air didn’t make it to the Lhamon home until my late grade school or early junior high years. It remains on my gratitude list to this day.
The master bedroom was “Mom’s Room,” off-limits to Traci and me because moms need a place where kids aren’t. Even today I hesitate to enter without first asking permission.
Jim Durbin lived across the street. We played 500 in the street between our houses until one of us yelled “Car!” and moved to the curb. We held marathon Monopoly games in Jim’s bedroom while drinking Ruth Durbin’s spectacular sweet tea. Once Don Durbin stepped into Jim’s room during one of our games, grimaced, and said, “Who crapped in here?!”
“That’s Lhamon’s feet!” Jim pointed and laughed.
My grade school funk.
Mark Juchems lived up the street. He and his dad built a tree house with a knotted rope hanging from a limb. All of us neighbor kids measured ourselves against that rope. “Can I make it all the way to the top?” It became our plumb line, testing our fitness, our metal, our manhood. Every boy should have such a rope.
Two doors down from my house was Kevin Hawkins and his brother Bryan. Their side yard was the perfect football field except for the fire hydrant. Jim taught us all some new curse words the day one of us tackled him against the hydrant.
Michelle and Angie McDonald and their two younger sisters lived across the street from the Hawkins. They had a pool, which made them very popular with us boys. Wait. That’s a lie. We liked them because they were cute. We all had crushes on them so — pool or no pool — they had irrevocable lifetime memberships in our neighborhood club.
These days when I go home, there are no kids playing 500 in the street. I see it in my mind only. Nor have I watched kids use the telephone pole on the corner as home base for games of hide-and-seek. A shame because every kid ought to experience — at least once — the sting of the Merthiolate our mothers used on the wounds left behind after extracting giant splinters from our hands that came from that pole.
Back in the day, when the storm drains backed up, a good, hard rain turned the street into a river. Jim and I would grab an inner tube and take it up the street against the current. Then we’d float past Mark’s house then Michelle’s then Kevin’s until we got home.
But somewhere along the line the city fixed the storm drains and the rivers don’t appear any more. The adult in me sees this as progress. The kid in me not so much.
Not everything has changed, though. The creek (the correct pronunciation is and always will be “crick”) is still there back where the Roller Coaster Hills used to be. So, if you have the mind to, you can still hunt crawdads and crawl through the 5′ culvert up to Parkway Street. Take a flashlight.
The trees are 40 years taller and with 40 years more shade. Our yard is still a great spot to watch the 4th of July fireworks they set off in the park.
And Don and Ruth still live across the street and Ruth still makes the best sweet tea.
My childhood home is small. Just 900 square feet, a fraction of the size of the stately homes on Washington Street or Park Avenue or the ones springing up in new subdivisions about town.
But it is giant in my mind. Each small room filled with really good juju. Inhabited by friendly ghosts. My ghosts.
And for me, it’ll always be home.