I closed the store amid snow flakes drifting through the dark. Sitting at the traffic light, at the corner of Route 101 and Route 202, I looked across the intersection and my mind’s eye took over. My grandparent’s house was sitting on the spit of land, except it wasn’t a spit of land. You could barely see the tidy, yellow clapboard home behind the giant pines that separated it from the railroad tracks. The route was from Peterborough to Fitchburg, my great-grandfather rode those trains every day as a conductor, after coming back from whaling.
The house was lit for the season with a brightly colored tree in the front room, the curtains thrown open to the world. In each window, a paper-mache candle held a yellow bulb. My grandfather worked his entire life for the Public Service of New Hampshire. He loved nothing more than tinkering with electricity and had cobbled together rudimentary timers for the window candles so they came on at dark and shut off at bedtime. The driveway was always a narrow path this time of year, lined with enormous show banks – perfect for digging elaborate forts and tunnels all day.
The river wound gently behind the house and was frozen over enough in spots for perfect skating ponds among the shallow, quiet sections. There was only the moon to light those spots when my Grandpa Brim took us out at the end of the day to skate a few laps among the reeds and grasses poking through. The tracks out front were in operation even in my childhood, though infrequently. We placed copper pennies on the smooth rails and later came back to retrieve our shiny, flat treasures.
The house stood for almost 100 years. rough wooden beams in the basement marked the various floods from historic storms. The “central” heating system included large, round brass grates between the first and second floors to allow for hot air to rise to the bedrooms and bath. They also worked well for snooping on the adults below when children were sent to bed.
The river was diverted to create a shopping mall, the railroad stopped and the land was reclaimed for a branch bank. The highways narrowed the property, bringing the world to this corner. The traffic light changed and I drove by. To the rest of the world this is an intersection of routes, to me it is a tiny corner of the fabric of my life.
Julia bounded in as I was laying the fire. “Oh my word! You won’t believe what happened today! This was so cool!” ’cause she really does talk like that. “I spoke with this woman from Bozeman who knew exactly where the house I grew up in was!” Julia went on to replay her conversation and how it had made her a bit homesick for her native Montana. The woman apparently described the changes to the area, the growth and development. But Julia clung to the snapshots in her mind of great expanses and a childhood home.
I think coming home for the holidays should occur every day; even if it is just in my mind.