“Hand me that paint brush, will you, Bob?” Dad asked from his ladder as he contemplated some final touch-ups on the corner molding. I complied, reaching as high as I could with my nine-year-old hand toward Dad’s down-stretched arm.
Old farmhouses may have romantic allure, but actually living in one offers endless opportunities for repairs and renovations. Dad was dedicated to restoring our recently acquired relic.
It sat on a rather small lot, but seemingly-endless acres of verdant fields surrounded our one-acre property, providing respite from metropolitan Cleveland.
A punster beyond redemption, Dad had affectionately ordained our new home “The Acher,” acknowledging both the small size of the parcel and the painful work required to make it more livable.
As Mom tried to adjust to the isolation of her new rural environment, Laddie, my collie, buoyantly accompanied me as we romped through the fields, exploring every mole hole and brook.
The bliss of my carefree youth persisted long after the reality of adult life caught up with me. College, marriage (two of them), and a growing family of my own redirected my attention and my priorities for too many years to count. But the fond recollections of growing up at The Acher are frequent reflections.
Now living nearly a thousand miles and a half-century away from my boyhood home, I recently received an invitation to attend my high school reunion. This immediately elicited thoughts of a side trip to see my old home. Deep down I suspected I shouldn’t do it. I should let warm memories rest. But the temptation was too strong to ignore, so I made the trip.
As I approached my hometown I was amazed at how it had grown. Its gracious rurality had been replaced by busy commerce.
I smiled and my heart beat faster as I approached my former address. Would a succession of owners have continued Dad’s early restorations? Would there still be pride in the hearts of its current residents? There it was, dead ahead! I slowed down and approached it with reverence and anticipation.
And there it sat – abandoned, derelict, forlorn. The white paint had long turned dingy grey. I pulled into the driveway and saw that several lower windows were broken. I opened my car door, got out, and slowly walked toward the front bay to look inside where I saw the ravaged remains.
I looked up at the wood trim on the ceiling, and pictured my father atop that ladder eons ago as I handed him a paint brush.
A white placard had been crudely nailed to the front door. It announced my home’s imminent destruction to make way for a shopping center to complement the fast food restaurants, chain stores, and entrepreneurial businesses that now pervaded both sides of the highway.
The once-pristine fields that Laddie and I ran through together long ago were gone forever. Overcome with nostalgia, I lowered my head and cried.
But while reality is transient and occasionally bitter, memories are indelible and often consoling. Thomas Wolfe admonishes us that you can’t go home again, but Laddie will always be at my side as we run through those precious fields of yesterday.