Wind whipped our hair and froze our noses as we scraped our way through the fallen snow as we skated on the pond. Mucking through the soft, marshy edges to get to the hard ice in the middle, the ice so rough it chattered your teeth with each stroke.
Long tendrils of branches camouflaged the nook in the willow tree where I went to read, dream or write. My imagination carrying me away, the gentle swish of the leaves a back drop to day dreams.
The back bedroom was mine for a spell. I loved falling asleep with the windows open. Hearing the crickets and bullfrogs serenading me to sleep from the pond, hidden in the darkness. I was safe, nestled in, cradled by my blankets and the warmth of my bed.
We built Homecoming floats in my barn. I never felt included in the activities, I skirted around the edges. Hovering around the edge of the crowd for small jaunts of time before heading back inside, happy to have my class mates there, unsure of how to join them.
An ice luge was constructed down the hill on the north side. My brothers carefully packing snow, smoothing it to ice with water and work. I marveled at their creativity. I marveled at their courage. I went down once. Too afraid to go again. I was always afraid.
I threw pillows across the long basement. My “bedroom” on one end, Dave’s on the other. He loved to rap. In his sleep. Beastie Boys at their best. The pillows, the easiest way to get him to rap quietly …
Indian painted flowers spilled down the hill on the south side of the house the fall of sixth grade. I fell in love with the warm autumn colors and the spray of delicate petals. It was that view, that moment that made our new house feel like home.
My dad read us Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Tales of Narnia and hobbits jumped off the pages, voices deep inside my dad’s imagination bringing to life paper and ink. Laying in piles on the floor, snuggled together with pillows, legs draped over arms and heads laying on laps. My sister, my baby sister, always snuggled under my wing.
Warm chocolate chip cookies and black berry tea. Vanilla simmering in a pot, placed on top of the kerosene heater, an orange glow of warmth and light to welcome my tired, weary, cold and wet body home from the rink.
Mac & Cheese and Hank Williams Jr at lunch during high school. I loved to come home with my brother, I probably never told him. It was the best part of my day.
Pets buried out back, forts built with fallen trees and imagination, the horse lien-to a port in the storm.
Matty turning the back yard into his own vehicle of teenage rebellion, spelling “Fuck” in the grass with a mower. His side ways grin curling the corners of his mouth as he bounced around on the tractor until someone noticed.
Soaking up sun on the back deck (that was half finished for most my life) with baby oil on my skin and lemon juice in my hair, listening to recorded tapes of Kasey Kasem’s American Top 40.
Forgive my indulgence. When I was ten I moved to Big Rapids, Michigan. When I was eleven I moved into what I consider my childhood home: 12440 Northland Drive, with my two brothers, sister, mom and dad. Last week my mom, now living there alone, put the house on the market. 34 years after we made it our home. Nostalgia is a funny beast, coming and going in waves of hope for the future and sadness for what’s been long gone. Over the past ten days memories that I haven’t crossed paths with in months, years, maybe even decades, have come to visit. The big ones are easy to list: we celebrated three weddings at that home, family parties and the loss of special animals. Dave turned 21 with a blow out bash, open houses and graduations, ice show celebrations and announcements of engagements, and then new babies to come. We spent Thanksgivings heaping food on our plates and warming ourselves with good wine and family. Christmases, New Years and Easter Sundays.
While I remember those moments, those big shiny pearls in the past, it’s the small moments that have comforted me as we say goodbye to an era. The little moments whose visits I have smiled about and have brought me solace. Snapshots that created my childhood, wove a tapestry that shaded my life, come to me as I am working, as I am walking, waiting in the car. These moments give me courage, they give me hope.
My boys will have a similar list. They will smell peanuts and think of their daddy who eats them every day. They will look out in the woods and remember building forts, hunting rabbits (and squirrels and dear and turkeys) and Gator riding. They will remember Sunday Night Movie night and early bed night and football games in the yard. They will remember open houses and graduation parties and nights in the hot tub. They will feel comforted by chocolate chip cookies and the sight of a silver bean field in the wind.
We are encouraged to look forward, to stay positive, to gain ground by building on our past not reflecting upon it. I have found that my comfort comes in looking backward. Not just a glance or a quick look as I quickly drive past, but a good, long hard look at where we have been, how far we have come. It’s in the looking backward that I have found the strength to go forward, to continue when things feel heavy and full of … well full of life.
Looking back, not wistfully or with with a longing to return, but with a keen eye for progress, for the marks of learning and growing has given me more perspective than I have gained in my efforts to move forward, to gain ground and to push on. Looking backward has provided me a compass and a map. It reminds me that things weren’t always perfect, far from in fact, but they were also real and true and important. It helps me to know that despite my mistakes and misstep’s, despite the struggles that raising children (in particular 3 teenage boys at once) confront, my boys will remember the chocolate chip cookies and the stories by the fire. They will remember that time I threw a shoe at them (I missed, I wasn’t really aiming at them) but they will remember me smiling and laughing, too. And that’s so important to me.
Looking back reminds me of who I am, where I came from and who I want to continue to try and be. A woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a nurse, a writer, a reader, a dreamer, a creator. A woman who used to curl up in the weeping willow next to a pond and dream of what she could create.
Here’s to looking backward. To move forward.