Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Magic of Place

My close friend Jan Sorrells wrote a story in her holiday letter that I have permission to share with you:

When I was a little girl around the age of five, my parents and I would often climb into our car on a Sunday afternoon to make an hour-long trip down an Alabama highway; then, we’d make a turn onto a narrow, bumpy dirt road that was surrounded by trees on both sides. Daddy drove carefully down the hill, so the car wouldn’t’ slide off the road. (I loved it when my cousins and I would ride in the back of a pickup and bounce down that road.) Then we crossed the little creek, and as we traveled up the hill on the other side, all of a sudden there was a clearing, and I could look up and see the old wooden house at the top of the hill. It seemed to me that the ride from the highway to my granddaddy’s house took forever, as I just knew my cousins would be there to play with me.

Twenty-five years later when my uncle took me to see that house, I was amazed at how short that same drive was, and I somehow felt cheated by the two-minute drive that day down that very same road.

There is something about our main places as children that makes them seem so much bigger, more impressive—maybe more magical, somehow, than they really are—or at least, more than they appear when we become adults.

The house where my family lived for ten years when I was a child is like that. We moved there when I was five and it was seventy-five; we moved next door to a brand-new house we built when I was fifteen. The old house gradually deteriorated for the next thirty years, thanks to renters and vacant times (houses seem to know when they are vacant and uncared for). Finally, we had it torn down, and now the lot is part of my mother’s yard. The best fine, straight wood in the flooring was reincarnated in a lovely two-story Victorian house across town; I visited it once. In my dreams, our house is still there.

When I dream about my childhood, the old house is there, with its wide front porch and long open windows, white ruffled organdy curtains gently blown about by a breeze. I can still hear the sounds of my brother’s feet on the wood floor, as he went tromping and running through the rambling rooms. I don’t have the same attachment to any other apartment or house that I have ever lived in, not even the place we live now, where we have lived for twenty years.

Adulthood comes along and cheats us out of the magic of the place.

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