When I was a child I thought I would grow up and purchase a little house with a lawn and a few fruit trees. I would live there for the rest of my life and my grandchildren would come visit and I would allow them to snoop through my home.
I assumed this because, my great grandmothers lived in homes that my grandparents had grown up in. Eventually I learned that my father hadn’t grown up in a tidy double wide surrounded by a couple of acres of pasture, but his parents’ home still felt like a place of stability for me. This is where I always knew when to stand at the window and watch for my grandfather’s truck on the road, returning from a day of work building logging roads. Every morning and every evening we took care of the horses and during the day my hair would be braided and grandma would ask me about me about school and my friends. I learned to value myself despite learning struggles and physical challenges.
My mother had been raised in a home on a hill built from a logging bunk house. The bunk house had been turned into a kitchen and living space and bedrooms were added on. Eventually there had been the addition of an enclosed back porch where my grandmother kept her rock tumbler, saws, fishing gear, and stuff that people mailed her from around the world. A shop was added where my grandfather could remove engines and make repairs. I colored with a copper crayon that was always green when I picked it up and read books about volcanoes and native plants and we would hunt for fossils and look for agates on the beach. I developed dreams and goals.
It took me a while to learn that my childhood home in town would not be a place to revisit with my own children someday. After we moved out into the woods we would drive by the house in town and I watched it degrade as I moved away from its memory: The tilled garden with corn and big plump tomatoes, fruit trees and poppies, my bedroom with deer and rabbits on the walls, the alley with bats living in a stack of tires where I learned to ride my bike, the swing set and teeter totter with the sandbox and play house that matched our home.
The place in the woods started with nothing. First we needed access so we found limestone on the mountain across the creek and my dad asked his father to help us build our driveway. Then we built a platform and set a World War 1 tent on it. We cleared space for the house and slowly but surely the new house began to form while we spent our summers living in the tent and stayed with my grandmother during the school year.
My sister and I played in the woods. The rule was to never be so far from the house that we wouldn’t be able to hear our parents call. In our minds the boundaries of the 38 acres were arbitrarily somewhere in the woods and through the swamp. We found maple vines that became pirate ships and a large blue spruce that gave us a break from navigating the brush of the forest floor. We found niches where trillium could bloom and located every huckleberry bush. We played in hallowed cedar stumps that could fit us and our friends with notches for springboards and scrambled over the old slash piles. We found a blue tree frog and a holly tree and searched for salamanders. We watched for the black bear that ate our berries and left signs on the old logging railroad easement.
We took a row boat out into the swamp and bottomed out on tree branches and created a path to the other side so that we could walk over the hill to our neighbor’s home. We discovered the beaver lodge and collected frog eggs for our classroom. This place had history and life. The sun would start to set and we’d here our father call out for us and we’d turn around and return to the tent and an evening fire.
The house went up, we moved in, and then my parents split up a year later. Suddenly it was just my mother, my sister, and me living back on DNR road with a hand pump for water and no electricity. The walk to the bus stop was just under a mile and the bus ride to school an hour. We lived there for three more years until we moved to a college in Idaho where I stayed after my mother completed her degree.
My father had moved back into the house when we left, 28 years ago. He remarried and the whole place seemed to change. I would send my kids over during the summer but I never heard stories from them about playing in the woods like I had. More neighbors moved in, a new driveway connected more directly to the main road. It seemed like trees were always being harvested to pay for debt. My step mother kept demanding upgrades to her standard of living in the woods and eventually the forest moved away from the house. She had complained from day two that they were not moving out while demanding the upgrades, and eventually she left.
When our kids were young my husband and I warned them that when the youngest graduated that they would no longer have a home; we would be off traveling around the country, maybe the world. We decided this because they had changed the direction of our adventures when they were conceived, in our minds forcing us to settle down and buy a home. When the economy crashed in 2008 we realized that a home was not as important to us as we were to each other. Though the kids had a few years left before graduation we sold our house. We have managed to provide support and family without the sense of place that each of us had relied on as youth. Our children will never bring their kids to the home they grew up in.
Today my father will hand me a key to his storage unit. He tells me he is going on a road trip and isn’t sure when he’ll be back. My youngest has graduated. The woods are gone.