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.