About eight weeks ago, around the middle of January, I took some
of the moss rose seeds I'd collected last fall from my garden and
planted them in a couple of old clay pots. Moss roses are small
plants, never growing more than four or five inches in height; they have
spiky dark-green leaves the shape of pine needles and put forth tiny
rose-like blossoms in all variety of colors, each one being about the
size of a large coin. I'd hoped to grow some of these flowers
indoors over the winter and so bring a reminder of summer days into my
house, but because of poor lighting and bad timing I suppose, the
seedlings turned out to be weak-looking things, thin and
scraggly. In fact, for a time I thought they would not even
survive. But after several weeks of hardly growing at all, they
finally began to put forth their second and third set of leaves and
to get a bit taller. They still look very delicate though, and
I'm not sure what will become of them.
"Days and months are eternal travelers in time." I
read that somewhere once, and I liked the sound of it:
"Days and months are eternal travelers in time . . ."
So it is that in the cycling of the seasons, spring is once again
beginning to make itself felt here in my town.
March in these parts is a month of sudden, tumultuous snow squalls
interspersed with brief, tantalizing spells of warmer weather.
Everyone begins to get spring fever about now, me included.
Sometimes, in the evening, when the air isn't too cold and I've
finished working my shift at the factory, I like to go walking around
town a bit. It's pleasant as I stroll about to look at all the
houses with their windows lit up from within, to see, perhaps, the glimmer
of a television set with its pale blue light flickering on the living room
walls like electric fire. Inside those houses, parents are
relaxing after a hard day's work while their children lay sleeping
safe and snug in their beds . . . Or so I like to imagine.
Yet I know, of course, that in many of those houses there must be trouble
and heartache. Perhaps the parents
have spent the evening bickering and fighting, cursing and crying; or it
may be that one parent has already left, leaving the rest of the family
to hobble along as best it can, like something grown crippled.
There are houses in which alcoholism or drug abuse hovers in the air
like an ill-kempt mistress, whispering accusations of failure, sour and mean;
in which the grownups are abusive verbally and physically to each other
and the kids. In some of those houses children lie huddled together,
wide awake still though it's long after dark, exhausted with the
effort of trying to comfort each other but unable to sleep. And
there are houses too where one child alone lies under a blanket,
sending out a wordless prayer: "Please please
please please pleeeeease . . ." while the shadow of someone much bigger
and more powerful than they slips soundlessly into their room to lay down beside them,
groping furtively under cover of night.
I was much luckier than that. My childhood held its own share
of terrors, but none of them was ever as grim as these. The
household in which I grew up was occasionally shaken by the tremors
of some subterranean shock, but it was never struck by an earthquake so
severe as to tear the foundations of my life apart, its bloodied
remnants to be swallowed in some endless gulf of misery. In
short, I survived my childhood with my innocence relatively
unscarred, though by what fortunate collaboration of circumstance and
aptitude I could not say. As with so much
in life, it seems to have mostly been due to the luck of the draw.
In any event, sometimes when I'm out walking on one of those nights
when winter can be felt at last to be loosening its icy grip and the
scent of spring is in the air, I like to make it a point, every now
and again, to revisit some of the haunts of my past. And so I
follow a route that leads me back to my own childhood neighborhood, back
to the house that I myself grew up in:
"Here," I say to myself as I pass along the shadowy
streets, "are the yards I used to roam through with my
friends during the long, hot summer afternoons. I wasn't
allowed to go farther than two short blocks – but it felt like
miles. Here's the old playground where we used to come play on
the swings and the sliding board, the merry-go-round and the monkey
bars. And there, behind the playground, is that tiny woods –
it looks a kind of ratty place to me now – where we used to
hold the meetings of our secret club. Here's the alleyway where
we used to ride our bikes up and down, up and down, singing
songs. Here's the house where my best friend lived – I
wonder what he's doing now? And there, there it is at last – the
house that I grew up in, the house that I lived in when I was a boy."
It's a strange feeling, a strange and rather lonely feeling, to
revisit these scenes of my childhood. It's strange and rather
sad sometimes to remember that I have lived almost all my life here
in this same small town, to be always reminded of how much of the
past is slipping away from me, of how much I am required to leave behind
– and of how much there is, both good and bad, that still holds me close.
"Here's the driveway where I would sometimes catch ants –
I liked to drop them into spiderwebs and watch the ferocious
spiders dart out. Here's the old maple tree I used to climb in
search of the caterpillars I'd raise in jars. Here's the
front yard that I used to play games in – how small it looks
now! And here," I say again to myself, slowly,
wonderingly, "here it is – my own old house."
It all seems so familiar, and yet it's changed somehow; I hardly know
it anymore. Once it was my whole world. But here is where
someone else lives now.