Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Forbes house: meeeemories

Nothing stays the same. Someone said that once. Even memories we want to remain impervious shift and mold with time into something new and foreign. What I want to remain locked in my memory is our family house on Forbes Street in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

As a child I found the house to be monstrous. I could run in a circle around the downstairs, laughing while my cat nipped my heels. It is in that kitchen I pouted when I didn’t get my way. In the living room I pushed down my brother when he was attempting to crawl. This was my house. This was my kingdom.

In the dining room I celebrated my fourth birthday wearing nothing but my curly golden hair and a Rainbow Bright belt. In my bedroom I smiled as my mom sang Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game” each night before bed. On the front porch I roller skated naked. On that same front porch I sat on the swing and witnessed thunderstorms. I spit watermelon seeds on the steps leading to our house to ensure I wouldn’t grow watermelons in my stomach. During the summer, my brother and I frolicked in our turtle sandbox. I once sat in that sandbox as my brother came home from the hospital. He was upset because an ant was on him. I thought he was silly; ants were no big deal to me then.

In the winter we mounded snow and for a jubilant two seconds sledded down it. My parents pulled us in our sled through the city cemetery behind our house. The sereneness of the snow took away any perceived ghouls that lurked there. This feeling stretched into summer making the cemetery my playground. Next to the cemetery wall I ate mushrooms with a friend. A short while later, my dad on the phone with poison control, I threw up those mushrooms in our bathroom thanks to a dose of Ipecac. It was down the street I attended pre-school, a place I never wanted to come home from. It was on Christmas Eve we came home to a thief cutting our backdoor screen. On our couch, waiting for the police, I thought, what if we had been a half hour later?

Year after year, no matter where we had moved to, whenever I was in Kalamazoo I pilgrimaged to the Forbes House, the monument of my youth. Just driving by, pausing in front of the driveway brought me back to myself. I used to wonder if the family that lived there now appreciated my special place. Looking at the house with adult eyes, the porch isn’t as big, the swing is missing, the driveway isn’t as steep, the garage door hangs at a slant, and the cemetery isn’t as majestic. The neighborhood isn’t stately, although it never was. I’ve stopped going back, as if the dilapidation would somehow manipulate my memories. But that’s not true. My memories aren’t exaggerated or aggrandized. My childhood took place in that kitchen, that porch, that yard. I just don’t need the actual place anymore to revel in the memories.

"Memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen."
Edward de Bono


  1. Me too, what a great post. One of your best yet!

    I drove past the house where I grew up over Christmas. It's SO weird thinking of other people living there. Do they cherish it like we did? They didn't have Christmas lights up, but there was a new fence in the front that looked great. They didn't decorate the veranda like we did, but I was pleased to see a kid sized hockey stick next to the door.

    I don't think I could stomach going inside the house to look around though, it's hard enough driving past the outside.