Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Burkett Street Revisited



The house still stands as an empty, quiet relic paying homage to former, happier years. The ivy no longer covers the brick. The iris are all gone, paved over for parking. The paint peels around its curtainless windows that stare out at the world as if in shock. The six lively children are all grown and gone. The year 1975 is but a sweet memory...and the old homeplace at 536 Burkett will never, ever be the same.

We are cousins, close-knit and caring. It is here, in the warm, bright summers of our lives that we built dreams in the sand, not knowing that we would live to see the sand disappear. Yet time does not erase the dreams and memories. They remain unthwarted. And the six of us remain loyal to each other and the bond that was formed years and summers ago.

The yard is half its previous size and void of care and life. Still, it brings visions of all those adventures created by churning, whirling, innocent minds. Detectives, musicians, gymnasts, bakers, homemakers, tour guides, and safari hunters filled our days and lives until, one by one we each came to terms with the sad reality: No home is safe from change.

Pretension was a great part of our childhood lives. The yard yielded small wild strawberries that we plucked and prepared and pretended to eat. And whenever we hollered into the iron grating that covered the sewer system, we would pretend to call to some stranger in prison, or we would imagine where the underground tunnels would take us. I wonder just how many items we dropped into that culvert and then realized, too late, that they were irretrievable like our youth. If only we had known in time, we would have grasped the days into the palms of our hands as we did the sand—and molded them into a heavily fortressed castle, never to crumble. No amount of pretending will bring back those days. Thank heaven that reality allows us to look back and fondly remember.

The house itself was common. It was brown brick, two-story, practical, and roomy. And still, even the events of our lives, though commonplace as well, have left golden footprints upon our hearts. Each room holds its unique memories-- loving, warm, comfortable memories.

Her kitchen is bare now. Nothing remains but the checkered flooring and wooden cabinets. The pantry door stands ajar to reveal empty shelves. No more sneaking for a Twinkie. No more standing in the straight-backed chair to help wash the dinner dishes. No more watering of the sweetheart vine in the black painted BandAid box that hung in the window. No more...

Gone is the dining room table where Sunday dinner was eaten, and everyone helped themselves to Granny's fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and lima beans.

The big banana pudding bowl has disappeared. Papa no longer smiles from the head of the table with his lovable toothless grin. Even the sunlight finds it hard to shine upon the bare floors through the dirty windowpanes.

The family is not gathered in the living room to open Christmas gifts. Neither do the what-nots sit ceremoniously on the mantle waiting to be demolished by a boisterous game of Nerf ball. There is no braided oval rug to warm the knees of children dressed in Sunday best frills, kneeling to rip into the festive packages. There are no marble lamps to flip a switch and make it all come true.
Even the den seems larger now with the big overstuffed blue couch gone and the baby's playpen retired. Granny's ferns no longer flourish in the windows. Papa's blue work uniforms no longer grace the closet or doorway. Papa no longer enters and reclines and enjoys his daily lunch break. There are no fading refrains from “As the World Turns.”

Even the bathroom has lost all familiar sights, and it no longer smells of Jean Nate' or Camay or hair tonic or Right Guard. The blue tile has faded. The porcelain is chipped and stained. There are no fresh clean towels nor billowing curtains to shade the window.

All the closets echo with nothingness, even though I can still recount the contents one by one. The bathroom closet no longer contains alcohol and bandages, old rags and shoe polish-- no Mercurochrome to heal these wounds.The front hall where Granny's Sunday coat hung still smells faintly of moth balls, and I reach for the transistor radio on the top shelf. But it is gone. The music's faded. And what has become of her old straw fishin' hat and feather duster? Gone with the tubs and tubs of fabric and buttons and patterns. I see Granny digging through them to find the proper notions to whip us up a new outfit. Oh, where has the time gone, old house?

More than anything else, we loved to go upstairs. We rarely got permission to go, and never just to play. Usually we went to clean the dust bunnies out from under the beds or bring canning jars down from the attic. There were two big bedrooms, another bathroom, and even a second telephone, which was unheard of in those days. But no one tinkers with the old Underwood typewriter anymore. There are no feather mattresses or chenille spreads or four poster beds. Only the dust bunnies remain.

I stand alone now in the front yard amidst the nostalgia of my memories. The flowers have all died. Their keepers have gone. An old maintenance truck is parked where my Granny's Grand Torino should be. Papa's red truck has been sold along with all his tools and mowers. Children no longer bounce tennis balls against the wall of his shop, and the greenhouses have been torn down. All the exotic plants he once nurtured are but a memory. The only remnant that remains is the symbol of our childhood safaris—the bamboo patch. What trivial adventures compared to now they were. Nothing is the same at 536 Burkett. Only the house, the empty shell remains.

Today the cousins gather in a different place minus a few dear faces. Granny still cooks the usual fare, and the call to dinner is still heard. All the love has survived as she, the head of the clan, leads us all blessing the bountiful meal. She seems a bit sad as we bow to pray. Even now as we sit reverently I can hear her voice ringing out in the midst of a July morn, ringing across a plywood gate into a picket fenced yard filled with laughing, lighthearted children, calling... “Y'all come to dinner.”

As family, we remain true to each other today. We realize we have a special heritage—that of loving grandparents who taught us to love God and one another. We realize that though the past will never be again, the future is ours. It is there for our children. And though this may be all that ever remains of a common, two-story, brick home, the beautiful album of memories will always be ours for the asking. Each of us has our own contribution. There are many pages left to fill. We keep those scenes pressed to our hearts and protected, realizing that only there will they remain safe and unchanged—unwarped by time or reality.

Written by: C.H. Green
Beneath the Ivy Wreath

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