I revisited “The house that built me”

Do you know the song “The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert? I had this experience recently when I passed my grandmother’s old house in Swartz Creek, outside of Flint.

My family moved around a lot growing up, but until my senior year of high school, when my grandparents moved to Florida, it was a constant. I spent summers there, vacations, and even lived there for a while in 6th grade.

As I parked on the street, I could see there was a woman working in the yard. By the time I arrived, she had disappeared into the house. I stopped in the driveway anyway. I shouted hello in the open garage, but she didn’t respond. I rang the doorbell, but no one came. I thought she was probably scared to come to the door for a stranger these days and all. As I turned to go back to the car, she was there all of a sudden!

I introduced myself and told him how my grandparents built this house in the mid-60s. About how I used to play in this yard. About how that huge pine tree in the garden was the result of a seedling my Aunt Pam brought home in a milk carton when she was in kindergarten.

My aunt brought home a seedling in a milk carton from kindergarten. It is this tree today. (via JR)

My aunt brought home a seedling in a milk carton from kindergarten. It is this tree today. (via JR)

She pointed to her old front door and said, “I bet it’s the same too.” (It was.) We started walking around the front yard and she started telling me her story with the house. She and her husband have been there for about 25 years, having bought the house from the man my grandparents sold it to. We walked around the corner of the house and I spotted the same old TV antenna. She told me if I wanted to go around the whole house, that would be fine. We did it and the memories came flooding back.

I told him where the fence was between the front yard and the back yard, and about the annual garden that ran around the perimeter of the back yard. She pointed to the lilac bushes that were always there – I loved when those bushes were in bloom. They smelled so good! I pointed out that the awning over the back patio was the same – although the patio is now closed. The heavy metal sliding door from the garage to the backyard.

She then invited me to take a peek inside if I wanted to. I hesitated. I didn’t want to invade that woman’s house. She hadn’t expected all this, and who wants unexpected company? I think she read it all on my face. She just said to overlook any mess, because she didn’t know she was going to have company.

I admit I had tears in my eyes when I entered the house through the garage. I saw the same tile my grandfather had put on the floor in the bathroom. The lady pointed out that she never replaced the kitchen cabinets – they were indeed as I remembered them. The fake brick behind the stove was still there too. I pointed to where the old rotary wall phone was and walked into the living room. I showed him where I remember the Christmas tree, just in front of the replaced windows. I asked her if she still had the laundry chute from the main bathroom to the laundry room in the basement…she said she would NEVER get rid of it!

I asked if the squeaky board was still in the hallway. She stared at me for a moment, unable to place it. She was a bit surprised when I found it quickly! I explained that this little painting in the hallway had a lot to do with the way I walk, even today. For a big guy, I can easily sneak up on someone. I walk fairly quietly. It’s because of that squeaky board in the hallway, or rather, being trained to avoid it at a very young age. When my grandfather worked the 3rd shift at the Buick factory, he slept during the day. If any of us walked on this plank, it would wake him up.

The house seemed much smaller inside than I remembered, perhaps because I saw it then with childish eyes. The woman gave me a hug as I left and I thanked her for allowing me to relive my childhood a bit. She also enjoyed learning a bit of the history of her house.

It was a good day.

The house my grandparents built in Swartz Creek, near Flint. (via JR)

The house my grandparents built in Swartz Creek, near Flint. (via JR)

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Raymond I. Langston