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Memories of this old house

Meredith L. Cohen

Based on the familial histories of most of my friends, the fact that my parents have been married for over 38 years and have lived in the same house for 33 of those years seems nearly as miraculous as the face of Mother Teresa appearing on a cinnamon bun in Nashville in 1996. But, like the hue of Michael Jackson’s skin and Oprah’s waistline, changes have occurred over the years. As far as their marriage goes, my dad wisely says that my mom has only changed in that she’s grown more beautiful. My mom says my dad’s most notable change is that he’s grown wiser. As for the house, my parents called this week to report that the latest change is my bedroom. Again. My room in my parent’s house has undergone many transformations since its grand opening in 1973. It went from being a haven for a family of Snoopy and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls to a Sting memorabilia shrine to an exhibit of Absolut Vodka ads. When I was 12, my parents visited me at summer camp and allowed me to pick new wallpaper and carpet from a bunch of samples. That was one of the last times I was allowed to offer any input into the room in which I slept.When I left for college, my bedroom was converted into a computer room. Six years ago it also became the room where my nephew, Jake’s, crib was installed for his occasional sleepovers, thereafter consigning me to my sister’s old room upstairs whenever I visited. When my niece, Julia, was born just over three years ago, she moved into Jake’s/the computer room for her overnight stays, Jake moved up into my sister’s old room and I received a transfer into the playroom. Earlier this week I learned that the latest incarnation of my bedroom when I visit next is the downstairs study, which is being converted into a guest room. At this rate, when I get married I assume my husband will have to sleep next to me in a futon on the floor in the garage when we come to see my parents.My room is one of the most obvious areas of the house that has experienced change. Like my parent’s marriage, some of the house’s other alterations over the years have been more subtle. A detective might be the sole person other than a member of our family who could look at the living room carpet and still see the stains left by our late dog, Roxanne. The owners of the rug cleaning company in town probably sent their kids to college with the money they made on steaming that carpet in the 14 years Roxanne was alive. However, insiders will likely identify and chuckle at the traces of nervousness left by a six-pound poodle excited about creeping illegally in a room off limits to her.The wall on the stairway down to the den is now smooth, but it used to be lined with chunks of stone. When I was little, I would tiptoe downstairs and camouflage myself in the rock to hide from my dad. When I was absolutely positive that I had been unobserved, I would launch what I was convinced was a sneak attack and surprise him after crawling the length of the floor from the stairs to the back his chair.The outside of the house under my parent’s bedroom window is presently filled with shrubs, but whenever I pass the spot I can still clearly see the log cabin that was my seventh birthday present. My dad and Grandpa Moe assembled it and my mom decorated the inside. I proudly served for years as log cabin gatekeeper and the unofficial kids’ block association president, until inclement weather, termites and teenage indifference relegated the cabin to the curb.Living on the edge of a golf course made for an interesting array of animals spilling onto the street over the years. Geese, pheasants, turkeys, woodchucks and deer have all graced our end of the cul-de-sac. When I was in first or second grade, there was a trio of stray cats that became regulars when our neighbors started feeding them. The cats, along with the neighbors, became like family. We named them (the cats, not the neighbors) Cashmere, Grey Ghost and Domino. The cats haven’t been seen in ages but the neighbors are still like family. No fire has been lit in the fireplace for as long as I can remember, but there used to be one every Sunday night when I was a kid. My family would eat dinner in front of it and listen to my parent’s old records. My sister and I always got a kick out of throwing some sort of store-bought chemical morsel into the fireplace that would emit colored sparks when reacting with the heat. I can’t say for sure, but the fires ceased either when Greenpeace uncovered our pollution or when birds discovered the chimney.Speaking of birds, there didn’t use to be fake owls perched on the back of the house. But there also didn’t use to be an awning over the patio that is apparently a more attractive nesting spot than the backyard trees for a few birds every summer. In recent years my mom has taken to battling the birds that arrive nearly every July and August morning to relieve themselves down the side of the house and attempt to build a home with sticks, hay and grass. Based on the timeliness and persistency of their annual return, I think the birds are ready to declare victory in the war.It’s always been difficult to find a calendar in the house. I always figured that was because my dad points out the change of seasons based on the state of the red maple tree outside the kitchen window. My mom faithfully calls me every year on or around my and my sister’s birthday to let me know that the pink and white azaleas that line the front of the house are blooming. Sadly, the dogwood tree that waits a week or two after the azaleas to flower has recently showed signs that it might only have a few years of flourish remaining in its long life to shade the porch.For better or worse, no matter the changes that the years continue to bring to the house or the location of the room in which I sleep, as long as my family is there, it’ll always be home.Meredith Cohen really believes there’s no place like home. Except for Disney World. That place rocks. Questions or comments may be e-mailed to meredith_cohen@hotmail.com.


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