You can't go home again, but you can visit the house where you grew up. I tried it recently. Here's some advice.
Do not, as I did, park your car out front and stare.
Do not, as I did, stand in the street, with a friend, pointing at windows and saying, "So that's where my bedroom was, and that's where . . . ."
Do not, as I did, take out a camera and snap pictures.
Chances are you will arouse suspicion. Particularly in those who live there. In my case, the man of the house stepped out to the front porch the porch where I used to sit on a milk box waiting for my schoolmates and he yelled menacingly, "Hey! Whaddya doin'?"
"I used to live here," I yelled back. "About 30 years ago."
I lowered my camera. "Sorry," I added.
"What's your name?"
I told him. Apparently, it jibed with his records.
"You wanna come in?" he asked.
LIFE ON A SMALLER SCALE
Now, after 30 years, stepping inside your old house is a bit like flipping open your high school yearbook. Some things you're going to recognize, some things you won't.
The exterior of the house had not changed much. It just looked so . . . small. We had a middle-class home on a middle-class street in a middle-class suburb. But having known nothing else, I thought it was a palace. I remember running from the porch across our front "yard;" it felt like half a football field. Now I could cover it in five steps.
Still, it's the interior that gets you. The colors had changed, as had the wallpaper and carpeting. But there was the banister we used to slide down as kids. There was the front hall closet where my snow jacket hung.
And, finally, there was the kitchen, where I spent at least half my youth. My kid brother and I used to chase each other around the kitchen table. How did we do that? There was barely enough room now to pull the chairs back to sit down.
I mean, how small were we?
"You can check out the upstairs if you want," the owner said.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS
And so I did. I checked the attic where we used to hide, seeing if our parents would notice we were gone. I checked my grandmother's bedroom, which was built over the garage. And then I went to my old room.
For much of my adolescence, I had purple and red wallpaper. (It was, after all, the '60s and '70s.) I had a small record player and a couple of "blacklight" posters. I slept in a "trundle" bed, in case a relative stayed over and we had to double up.
Now the room was empty. The current family was redoing it. The walls and floors were bare. On a home makeover show, it would have been prime material. But for me, it just looked . . . vacant.
This was where I'd slept from my infancy to the day I left for college. I stood there, looking out my old window, and I tried to get the feeling again.
And I tried.
And I couldn't.
Because what you realize when you visit your old house is that what made it your old house was the smell of frying food, the Beatles record your older sister played, the thumping footsteps of your father coming upstairs, the sight of your grandmother eating ice cream in her rocking chair, your mother's voice yelling for you to come down for dinner.
All that was gone.
I thanked the people who had let me in. And I wished them well. It was their house now. Mine was in my memory. I took one last look through the car window. Then we drove away.