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Going Home

My parent's home is located on three-and-a-half acres south of Akron, Ohio. The area used to be a farming community as recently as the early 1950s. The house faces Pickle Road, which is a combination of tar and gravel. The best time for surfacing the road, in the country's opinion anyway, is the middle of summer when the humidity is high and the sun blazing above keeps the tar the consistency of melted caramel; it continues to seep up through the gravel long after the workmen have finished. The edges of the road are always more tar than gravel, and it sticks to shoes and feet. Tires fling the hot sticky mess onto the wheel wells and rocker panels of the cars as they hurry by. The aroma that rises from the hot tar is barely noticeable when compared to the smell of burning rubber that pours from the tire factories in town. There was a time when Akron, Ohio, was known as the "Rubber Capital of the World"; those who lived and worked in the area were used to the smell of burning rubber and therefore did not mind the insignificant fragrance of melting tar which saturated the air on a hot summer day.

From the road the house looks like a picture one might find on an old calendar, the kind of picture a mother takes, not framed especially well, but pleasing to the eye. The house is old. My father and his father built it in 1949. Actually, they started in then, and now, forty-five years later, it is still not quite finished. It is red with a large front porch of concrete with four large square wooden pillars. Dad also built the porch himself and believed that everything that is required to stand up must be set in concrete. Once my brother, Richard, misjudged the driveway and ran into the porch with Dad's van. One of the pillars broke off, flew into the air, and crashed down on the roof of the van. It popped out of its place like a child's broken tooth, leaving the rest of the porch intact. Because the remaining three pillars were also set in cement, Richard would have had to run into each one separately before the roof would have budged. Richard's accident was merely one more inconvenience to Dad; it only presented a new challenge, to reconstruct a pillar which could be anchored somehow in the same spot and reset in cement.

The original garage, now Dad's shop, is attached to the house by a small enclosed breezeway. Everybody had breezeways back in the '50s. I don't know why; it's not as if there was ever a breeze—except during the winter. One Christmas when there were presents for eight to fit around a tree, someone thought it would be a good idea to set up Christmas in the breezeway. "Christmas" meant a live, pine-forest-smelling evergreen, which occupied most of the room, and a cardboard fireplace. We did not have a real fireplace, and Mom though it would save the woodwork if we could hang our stockings somewhere besides the painted window sills. It was pretty realistic looking, too, with cardboard logs and a bright cellophane fire which seemed to flicker when lit from behind with yellow and red electric lights. But, cozy as it may sound, December in Ohio is not the perfect season for relaxing on the breezeway. So, from then on, the live pine and the fake cardboard fireplace were allowed to remain in the house.

Dad's shop in the garage is larger than the house, with two front windows like large rectangular eyes staring at the road, as if to watch for customers. The house also has two eyes, two large picture windows through which we could watch the world go by. And those on the outside can look into the rooms behind the windows, like children peering into a doll house. The living room and kitchen lie behind these windows. The house was built this way intentionally because Mother wanted to be able to see what was happening outside. The front door sits quietly between them like the nose on our faces: it seems to do nothing but is vital to our existence. The two bedroom dormers upstairs seem to peek over the roof of the porch like raised eyebrows, to indicate approval or disapproval as the house watches all who travel on Pickle Road.

The house and garage sit back from the road, a distance which allowed us to use the front lawn for a baseball diamond. Mom always preferred that we play at home. There were five maple trees my dad dug out of the woods, and he and Grandpa planted them three in a row along the yard and two in a second row right behind them. when one of the trees died in the back row, it left one lone maple tree looking rather out of place. But during our baseball games it was in the perfect place to serve as first base, and the tree directly across from it was third base. We had to improvise for second base with a rock, an old chair cushion from the shop, someone's shirt, or an extra mitt; we grabbed whatever was available at the time and only had a problem if the mitt was needed for play or the owner of the shirt wanted it back. Dad had not envisioned the baseball diamond in his plan for the yard, for if he had, I know he would have planted a tree for second base.

I visited the old home this past summer, the first summer visit in five years, and the house seemed smaller than I remembered. We usually visit at Christmas when it's cold and the snow covers the ground and house with a white blanket and there are no leaves on the trees. But this visit there was no snow to hide the changes.

The trees are larger now, and the house seems small. The house used to stand out and the trees were merely ornaments on the lawn, but now the house seems to be slipping into the greenery. Where the house once stood on flat ground, it is now hidden in a jungle of maple trees and weeping willows. The flat spot of dirt that we knew as Home Plate has disappeared and has been replaced by thick green grass that perfectly matches the rest of the yard and is slowly creeping into the gravel and dirt driveway, crowding it out of its due space. The trees on either side of the house used not to make such a thick wall. Where they used to give only the impression of a fence, they now form a barrier heavy enough to make one forget that there are houses on the other side.

A row of pine trees on the right of the house overlooks a bank and separates Dad's home from that of the neighbors on the hill. Mr. and Mrs. Scott have lived there many years now, but it is still the Weavers' place to us. On the left edge of the property, a white cross-rail fence separates the grounds from a piece of land Dad sold unwillingly when he needed money to pay my sister's hospital expenses. Weeping willow trees flank the fence from the road to the top of the drive and around to the back of the house.

The drive forms a horseshoe around the house, fitting neatly between the two sets of trees. The weeping willows form the left top of the horseshoe down to the road while the maple trees line up across the front yard; then on the right the row of pine trees stand. The trees seem to form a wall around the house, making it look as though it is sinking into a great hole, or maybe that it's the ripe red tomato in a large salad.

The house seems now, thirty years later, to be sinking out of sight, engulfed in plant life, just barely able to peek out through the trees. I fear I will come home one summer day and the place where the house once stood will have disappeared into the trees and there will be no voices to lead the way. I will go "home again," but there will be nothing there.

--Kathleen Looper

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