My childhood is a combination of pictures scrunched together to fill in the holes of what I remember. Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing between pictures I’ve seen and memories I remember. But there are memories that I have never forgotten. Things from my childhood that I think about all the time. I remember them so clearly, it’s like I’ve been thrown into a time machine and hurtled back to watch it all again as a bystander. Silently watching it happen again and again.
I’ve never thought myself to be a particularly unusual child. The same things every normal child loved, I loved. The same things every normal child feared, I feared. The toys at my house were just as good as anyone else’s, and the ghost’s under my bed just as imaginary. Though there is one place, to this day, I have loved with not a quite full understanding. It’s as if my brain shut down the moment we sold her house, and remained that of a child’s; lost to the reality, and ever alive to the stories that were woven between those walls.
Many a time in my adult years I have found myself passing the exit and wondering if I went back there, would the new family let me in? I’d heard they had changed a great many things in that house, and perhaps it is the possibility of change that keeps me from going back. If it remains cemented in my mind’s eye a certain way, then perhaps I shall keep it alive in an alternate universe of my imagination.
It stands, quite nestled in fact, at 305 Lamplighter Lane in a beautiful little neighborhood called Fox Hills. I have never in my life seen a better example of a simple southern American picturesque view of “home.” It was the home of my grandmother, mother’s side, and they were much alike. I do not remember her much, and I wish I had had a better appreciation for her then as I do now. Marion Crick babysat all the children in the neighborhood, and while she was strict with her kids, she was loved by many.
The driveway was always the first thing you noticed about the house. It sloped down from the street, creating the perfect hill for bikes and roller skates, wagons and big wheels. If you don’t remember big wheels, you’re either too young or too old. Big wheelers were plastic tricycles, with a massive wheel on the front with pedals sticking out the side. The seat was low to the ground, and you pedaled like mad getting up that hill, and then stuck your legs out the side to coast back down. No brakes really, and so we used the pedal our way to oblivion and line up at the top. Us kids would eye each other until someone would decide to screech “GO” at the top of their lungs, and we’d all lunge down the hill, screeching like banshees until we plowed into dry pine needles at the end of our “highway of death.”
They, (don’t ask me who), say that smells stick in your brain somewhere, and it only takes one trigger to send you spiraling back to where you began. I am not a great scientist and can’t tell you exactly how it works, but I’ve seen, or rather smelled, it first-hand. One second I’m walking out of my apartment and the smell of fresh fallen rain hits me square in the jaw and the next second I’m zapped back to sitting on that back deck at 305 Lamplighter Lane, listening to the pine trees setting into the soft earth.
And cookies too. Something about molasses. They take me back to her kitchen. Marion had four walls in her kitchen, like most kitchens do, but one of hers was a massive window overlooking the backyard and multiple bird feeders she had. I distinctly remember sitting at the kitchen table as she passed me a cold glass of milk and a fresh sugar and spice cookie straight out of the oven, watching the little birds flit from feeder to feeder. Simpler times, I suppose. Her kitchen always smelled of something heavenly, and it was usually bread. And boy could that woman bake! What my mother lacks in technology, she makes up for in cooking. And she learned every single thing from Marion.
There were exactly two things every child who visited her house faced, and each as terrifying as any child could imagine. The first, I understand now as an adult to be a perfectly simple and uncomplicated request, which was to stay out of the music room. The music room was kept to perfection. Antique Tiffany lamps, and a piano whose lid was always closed, combined with the perfectly lush avocado green carpet and a couch I believed no one had ever sat on in the history of all mankind. This made the room an off limits area to kids, and the most perfect temptation. We were not allowed to step even a toe into that room, and certainly not to run through it playing hide and seek. The wrath of Grandma Crick reigned most supreme on this matter. It was to no avail though, and when we knew she was otherwise occupied, we would slowly walk through the room, in one doorway and out the other, as if treading within a den of lions. The wrath one faced if one were caught was horrendous indeed, and the punishment most severe. I very distinctly remember being whipped within an inch of my life for my act of treachery, though in reality, I believe it was only a swat on the behind, as I ran out the backdoor to safety.
The second thing every child faced, and I suppose in a way, feared, was the closet under the stairs. The closet held all manner of childhood fancy: all the puzzles you could possibly dream of, every type of tinker toy known to man, woman, or child, Lincoln logs, ball and mallet games, and books. Yet, even through the euphoric haze of childlike perfection, there was a witch’s hat in the far corner that scared us all silly. That hat, without question, was the scariest thing I’d ever seen in my life, and I was solidly convinced that that hat belonged to the wicked witch of the west, who had taken up residence under the stairs. In actuality, the hat had belonged to my Aunt Amy and had been a piece of a Halloween costume. But, I suppose, to a child who had never been allowed to participate in Halloween, and to whom witches seemed a great and horrible thing, that hat was a symbol of the unknown and an emblem of sorcery under the stairs. This was only enhanced by the magic that seemed to encompass the closet itself. Whenever the door was opened, a light would come on. No switch or string was ever to be found, yet surely enough, the closet would explode with light when the door was opened, and then extinguish itself when the door was closed. The first time I noticed this, I stood outside of the closet for a very long time, wrenching the door open suddenly over and over as if to catch the darkness in the act before the light came on. In my small little head, the conundrum of a darkened closet was something I had never faced, and so I resolved myself to catch the darkness in the act, and close myself in. This act was of course the obvious solution, and it never once occurred to me that maybe the darkness just wanted to be left alone in the quiet peace of the closet.
Taking a deep breath, I opened the door in its shining brilliance of light, walked in, and closed the door firmly behind me. I instantly regretted my decision. Pitch black, and trapped in the closet with the witch’s hat, I now understood in full why the darkness was better left alone, and the closet merely accepted with its faults. It was then that I understood the mortal terror of every mouse caught in a trap, or a cat locked in the bathroom, for I was, indeed, locked in. The door, much to my sickening dread, did not open from the inside. No matter how much I turned the knob, it simply continued to turn, keeping me trapped in the dark, within the bowels of the stairs, left to the impending doom within the clutches of the closet witch. I wish I could say that I had kept my head, evaluated the situation, and then calmly and quietly dealt with the imprisonment at hand. I wish I could say that I faced the witch herself, fighting her off with a weapon made of tinker toys, and came away with a battle wound to carry my legend into history. The girl who fought the witch under the stairs, and won. Unfortunately I am neither heroic nor brave, and my Irish heritage failed me. There would be no fight today. I instead screamed with all my might until I was rescued minutes later that felt like hours. I had a very decent respect for the closet’s darkness after that.
Pumping my legs back and forth, knuckles gripped white on that chain, it was easy to pretend you were flying. Whether it was the happiest day of your life, or the storm clouds of life had rolled in, that swing my grandpa made was the perfect escape. He’d strung it up between two giant trees in the backyard, facing the house, and the chain went so far up the tree, it gave the illusion you could swing yourself right over the house. I used to climb up onto that wooden seat, gripping the chain, and would beg dad to push me. Braids flying and all smiles, knees scraped up and cookie crumbs still on my face, that swing was the best thing in the world. I could close my eyes and lean back, wishing my hair to drag on the ground. I’d come in looking like a savage and mom would grin like it was usual for her own little girl to look as wild as in Indian. I was always too far off the ground to succeed, but the idea of coming inside with a beaming face and leaves tangled into my brown hair seemed perfect. I was a wild Indian in my own mind, too, a noble explorer who stared death in the face and shouted “NO!” as I fought off evil villains with a stick that doubled as the great sword, Excalibur. Behind that perfect swing was a patch of woods that became all sorts of glorious lands. One day it was Sherwood forest, and I was the brave Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. The next day I was a hardworking lumberjack, fighting bears and mountain lions. I could be a princess running from the evil Jafar, or a spy stealing blueprints. It didn’t matter. I was the hero, and I always won. But my victories were never without a price, like chopping off my own hand to remove it from a trap, or pulling an arrow from my side.
Imagination could run wild there. I think back on those times with a smile on my face. If I could go back, I would. I didn’t worry about life back then. I cared only for the next thrill that childhood could offer. The next cookie, the next game, the next big wheel ride. Did it matter that the world slowly shrunk as I grew? Did it matter that as I outgrew my childhood, I saw the world a little clearer? I would like to think that 305 Lamplighter Lane remains the same, despite who I’ve become. I grew and changed, and after grandma had her stroke and moved up north, we sold that house in Fox Hills, and I’m sure the house probably changed too. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been able to bring myself to go back. I wouldn’t be able to stand seeing the differences. A new deck, or the missing birdhouses. Perhaps the witch under the stairs has moved, or maybe, and this is the saddest thought of all, that grandpa’s swing was unstrung, and the trees cut down to make room for something else.
I realize, it’s just a house, and that the memories are the important part. I realize that people have to change, and move on, and new people have to take their place. I have to “grow up” and put childish things away. But maybe I don’t want to. Maybe to me, that house is a symbol of a piece of my ever fading childhood. And maybe, just maybe, it was more than just a building on a beautiful street in Georgia. Maybe the house at 305 Lamplighter Lane was, really and truly, home.