52: All in the Family

52: All in the Family

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

All in the Family

To know after absence the familiar street and road and village and house is to know again the satisfaction of home.

~Hal Borland

The drive from Florida to New Jersey had been blessedly uneventful — at least until now. As our Honda struggled through the last few miles of rush hour gridlock on I-95, familiar sights and sounds poured through the open window. It had been a little over a year since we’d moved, and in that short time I’d begun to think of myself as a Floridian. But as I inhaled the cool, exhaust-laden air, my inner Jersey Girl returned with a vengeance. I turned on the radio and searched for my old favorite station. A deejay whose voice I didn’t recognize was doing a commercial for Tastykakes. I could almost smell the Butterscotch Krimpets.

“You’ve been pretty quiet,” my husband said. “Anything wrong?”

I shrugged. “It’s weird how everything seems different. Like we’ve been gone for ages instead of just a year.”

“Some things never change — like this traffic.” My husband muttered a few expletives as he hit the brakes.

We were going back home — or rather, back to our old house, where we had raised three children and transitioned from young parenthood through middle age to what I liked to think of as “active retirement.” My daughter and son-in-law were the owners now, having purchased the house from us when we moved on to our new lives in the Sunshine State. Somehow, the thought of returning made me feel unsettled — as if I were trying to put on a timeworn coat that didn’t quite fit anymore.

From somewhere up ahead came the sound of screeching brakes and a blaring horn. I rolled up the window and rested my head against the seat back. Then I closed my eyes and exhaled. The monotonous stop-and-go of the traffic was making me drowsy. I let my mind wander, picturing the house as it had been when we pulled out of the driveway a year and a lifetime ago.

“Honey, wake up. We’re here.” My husband gave my shoulder a gentle shake.

I opened my eyes as the car pulled to a stop in the driveway of a two-story white house on a quiet suburban cul-de-sac. Fat green buds covered the branches of the sugar maple tree, but the old tire swing that my three children had loved was gone. Under the tree that shaded the final resting place of Tweety the parakeet, Flopsy the rabbit, and a series of brown and white hamsters, there was a new wrought iron bench and a large terracotta planter overflowing with petunias.

My husband gave a low whistle. “The old place really looks spiffy,” he said. “It definitely needed a facelift.”

“It wasn’t all that bad,” I said.

The green trim that had once framed the garage door had been painted a trendy slate blue, as had the front door and the shutters on the three upstairs windows. I stared at the center window, picturing the chipmunk-cheeked face of my middle child pressed against the glass. That window looked out from his bedroom, and he loved being the first to spot and announce the arrival of visitors. “Com-pa-nee!” he would shout as he pounded down the stairs.

The flowerbeds were still there, but gone were the leggy irises and spicy pink carnations I had planted so many years ago. In their place were neatly trimmed azaleas, their masses of white flowers plumped like little pillows on the ground. The juniper bushes that shaded the bay window had been painstakingly pruned into precise cones, the blue-green berries nestled like tiny ornaments among the branches. The beginning of a smile twitched at my lips as I recalled how my sons would use those berry-missiles to pelt their little sister as she dashed up the walk, screaming protests.

The weeping cherry still graced the center of the front lawn, cascading its pink boas onto the grass. But now it was surrounded by nodding daffodils instead of my frilly purple hyacinths. I could remember the day my husband and I planted that tree; how I had laughed when he broke the shovel trying to pry loose a large rock and landed squarely on his behind. The tree, like my children, had been no more than a sapling then. And, with the passing of the seasons, it had grown tall and strong — just like my three babies.

I shook myself back into the moment, opened the car door, and stepped onto the familiar front walk. Then I pushed the doorbell by the strangely blue front door and heard Westminster chimes instead of the two-toned “Bing-bong” I was expecting. I listened for the ghostly echo of “Com-pa-nee!” but it never came. The feeling was eerie, like being in a dream where everything is slightly askew. Part of me itched to return to the reassuring sameness of the car.

Then the door opened. There was my daughter, tall, strong and smiling. She held out her hand.

“Mom! Dad! Come on in. I’ve missed you both so much.”

I took her hand, crossed the threshold, and I was home again.

~Jackie Minniti

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