For me, Home smelled like Raccoon Court – oak trees on a lake, mossy rocks and too many leaves. The concrete cracked over wild earth reminding us she is far from contained and that she did the long-suffering despite our groans come summer when the weeds needed pulling. We tucked our stories into this old, tiny cabin surrounded by deer and birds and these round petaled flowers in tall grass. Does it sound a little magical? Good. My childhood saw magic.
Sometimes we go back. My brother and I drive down the familiar roads and we can’t wait to breathe that air. We’ve taken friends and spouses, we’ve gone alone, but sometimes we go together and then we’re really there. For a little while home is back. Before the divorce, before our childhood blunders became adult mistakes, before disease and disaster and before the healing – before there was much to heal from. We go back and we can sense the magic.
We sit suspended on the steep driveway where we command old ghosts to animation. The “hideout” in those tall green plants, the bench Dad built for Mom where that piece of red wood is now, the twinkle lights she put around that rock, oh god all these leaves – and us standing in the middle of what felt like an ocean with a measly rake and Dad telling us what “dilly dally” means in that tone he gets. Mom with her visor trying her best to make her thumb green next to that Palm Tree she planted – still there by the wall Dad built.
Rebel is still there, too, near the caddywompus steps down to our favorite place. We laid him in the ground with heavy tears to fodder our first communion with Loss. We named trees here, we knew paths through thick brush now cleared away. We devised conspiracies and hatched missions and thought we were doing dangerous things when we crawled under a neighbor’s house and convinced ourselves the old boxes held dubious treasure.
I had no idea then what lie ahead – nobody did. That I would be blindsided by so much, that I’d live out some of the dreams I devised there. I couldn’t have known how awful life could be nor how amazing. I never imagined not coming back when I left as a bride to cross the country and set up an ameteur nest. That place felt untouchable. Now the house is a different color, the driveway is a different shape, the lawn I watched my parents lay from our living room window has long disappeared (and the window is new).
I don’t know if I ever said goodbye.
We played carefree without the burden of the future on our backs. Would it have changed if we’d known? Would we still have planted those palm trees and raked those leaves? Would we say the same things we said when we were stressed out? Would we still laugh at all those stupid inside jokes?
A new family lives at the cabin now. I hope they learn to be brave there, learn to have adventures. I hope they learn a work ethic and to take pride in what they build. I hope they learn about hard stuff and how to be in a world where we lose things. I hope they learn to trust even though there is no way to know which things will last. Mostly I hope they are loved so completely. I hope they learn that there are very few absolutes in this world, but they will always be loved and they will never escape it. I don’t know if they notice the ghosts, but I hope they get the magic.
Circumstances change. Relationships change. Houses change. But some things are true under all the rest of it. Well, maybe just the one thing. That Love Matters. Even if it doesn’t cure cancer or prevent a divorce. Planting trees and burying dogs and drying tears and reading books and painting murals of mermaids and sharing fears and working out conflict and making sure you can still hear each other when you finally get separate rooms matters.
I wave hello to the ghosts and scoop up some dirt just in case I forget: there is magic in the days we live unknowing. Wherever they are and whatever we do. I just go back sometimes to remember where I first learned how to spot it.