Nestled comfortably on the corner of 21st and Hackley Streets in Muncie, Indiana , it still seems inviting every time I drive by in stalker mode to see how the current tenants are caring for it. It seems like I ought to be able to pull up in the front driveway, trot down the sidewalk on the north side of the house, swing through the gate that my dog used to climb up and over, and slip through the back door onto the landing above the basement steps. Do I turn left and go up into the tiny kitchen, or go straight down the stairs into the full basement? My memories can carry me in either direction.
This little house holds memories for me in every corner, every nook and cranny. In fact, the only spot on the entire property that contains no memory for me is the attic. Otherwise, I can walk the entire place in my mind and remember some little thing or some big thing that happened to me, with me, or for me.
In the front yard, I can reminisce about drinking a Coke or a Mountain Dew at midnight while sitting on the porch steps and watching the traffic going by. I can think about my years of searching for the pocketknife I lost while trying to make it stick in the giant chinese elm that shaded the house and overhung the street. My dad gave me that knife and it was lost for several years until a guy visited the house with a metal detector. He found it for me, all rusted up. I wish I still had it…yep…I lost it again.
Or, I can remember talking my brother down from dragging his family off in the middle of the night in a drunken rage. He had driven home from California towing a travel trailer with his wife and girls to attend a high school reunion. He drank too much at the party and something upset him. He and his wife came home in the middle of an incredibly ugly argument, and he was determined to hook up the trailer, get his girls, leave his wife there, and head back to California. I got him talking on the front porch until he calmed down. Eventually, he laid himself down on the grass and fell asleep. I stayed there with him until the wee hours of the morning.
The backyard was Sugar’s home. It was bordered by that old wire fence on the sides, broken in a few places, the house in front, and the small, wooden one-car garage in the back. Sitting along side of the garage was, and in fact still is, the grape arbor that my dad built when I was maybe seven or eight years old. It will probably still be there in another forty years because he built it very well, put a coat of tar on the posts and set them in concrete. I can still remember the huge splinter I got in my thumb while helping to hold a brace piece while he nailed it in place.
Behind the garage is my old pet cemetery. Buried there is my hamster Arthur (Fonzi), my parakeet (Peppy), my turtle, various wild birds, and my dog….Sugar…in a small wooden box.
Sugar was my confidant and my best friend. She was my buddy from the time I was one until I was seventeen. She shared my pain, loved me anyway, and kept all my secrets. She never made fun of me, and always was there to cheer me up when I might be down. She even scared off a bully once, even though by then she was completely toothless. Thinking about her makes me emotional still.
In the house, it’s hard to know where to begin. My bedroom was in the northwest corner, nearest the intersection of the two streets. There was no air conditioning, so in the summer we’d have the windows wide open and sometimes a box fan blowing fresh air in to keep us cool. There was lots of noise from the street, especially when I was really young and there was a trucking terminal a block away, but your mind adapts until you just block all that out. In the winter, dad would replace the screens with storm windows, and if there was a big snowstorm, my nephew David and I would sit for hours and watch the cars sliding through the stop sign into the middle of Hackley Street in hopes of seeing a crash. Shame on us.
The floor of my bedroom was hardwood. If you went there today, and looked closely under the window on the north side, you could find evidence of my use of the wood-burning set my folks got me for Christmas one year:
Those letters will be forever burnt into the history of that house as a reminder of a young boy’s crush…at least until the house is demolished or someone decides to refinish the floors.
My parents were both smokers, so if you didn’t find me in my bedroom, you’d find me in the basement trying to escape the nicotine pollution. It was a giant playroom with a concrete floor. My dad kept his tools and personal stuff down there, and I used to go down there to “make something.” The most impressive thing I ever made was a chess table. I tacked two pieces of plywood together, mounted some ugly-looking legs on the bottom…in a way that left it remarkably stable…and used stain, shellac, paint, and polyurethane to create a chess board on the top. If you want to see it, you can go over to my sister’s house on west 17th Street. The last time I was there, it was sitting on her front porch, faded and a bit warped, but still stable.
Whether it was flinging darts like baseballs across the room or kicking deflated volleyballs up the steps and out the unlatched backdoor, I found some of my fondest times goofing off in that basement. I built things. I read books. I created a couple of art pieces…one of which still hangs in my kitchen today. And, I dreamed of…of…of…you know, I don’t know what I dreamed of. I guess I just always imagined growing up and going places, becoming someone important, and moving away. Isn’t that strange? Now, I just miss that old place, and sometimes…I just wish I could go back.
More stories to come.