2013 E. Wilson Road.
From the satellite images, this patch of Michigan is nothing remarkable. A modest house across from a rural church, surrounded by green fields and scattered trees. A dirt road meets the asphalt there, and runs up along the west side of the property toward more trees and fields and small houses, with a dilapidated barn or two thrown in for variety. Zoom out and you’ll see more fields and trees, and maybe an indian reservation just to the north.
To me, this patch of Michigan was home.
We moved there right after I turned three; my dad had just finished two years at a Chicago seminary and took a job at this little church in rural Michigan — named “Sugar Ridge” after the sweet sap that ran through the veins of all the tall maple trees shading the property.
We left just before I turned eight, packed up all our stuff in a u-haul and headed east to Pennsylvania to join a pseudo-Mennonite cult-church in Lancaster.
But for four years, E. Wilson Road was my childhood home.
Those were happy years.
It’s been more than fifteen years since I’ve seen that house (Once, when I was a teenager, we went back and peered in the windows and walked along the curving gravel driveway).
It’s been almost twenty-five years since I’ve been inside, but I remember it clearly (clear, like a photograph slightly yellow with age but infused with memories; not clear like a 4K TV).
Tonight I typed the address into Google Maps and went back to visit again.
It’s funny, the way memories come back in waves and pieces, images and stories and words you didn’t even know you remembered until they flash across the front of your brain. Those pixels on Google Maps bring back all the textures of my own life a full generation back, bizarrely specific even if slightly hazy.
There’s the tree where we hung a swing, at the end of our driveway. Two holes drilled through a piece of wood, and suspended from ropes, or was it chains? I’m pretty sure it was ropes. But it might have been chains.
In the patch of grass beside the tree, we played wiffle ball with some boys from church, or was it with my brother, or with my dad? Maybe all three? At the time, I thought that the goal of baseball was for the pitcher and batter to “play catch” with each other, the batter returning the ball neatly into the pitcher’s mitt so that the pitcher could toss it back again, a perfect unbroken volley over and over again. Of course, this level of hitting ability was something I knew I could only ever dream of. Eventually I learned that this was not the goal of baseball.
See those trees, at the end of the driveway? It’s probably not there now, but one Sunday afternoon in the early nineties there was a mud puddle in the shade of those trees and while my parents napped I drove a remote-control car (the kind with a wire connecting the car to the controller) through the mud puddles. Later, the car stopped working.
My older sister told me that there were robbers / indians / wolves sneaking around in the streets, so whenever a car would pass our house (it wasn’t very often) I’d run and hide behind one of those big front-yard maples in order to avoid a drive-by shooting. They never caught me.
Down that dirt road there’s a barn fallen all to pieces, where me and my friends Chris and Eric would push open the sagging door and explore the dusty inside. In my memory, it was terribly rickety and sketchy as hell, but we’d be all over that barn, climbing the stairs, hiding in the lofts. I wonder if it was as run-down as I remember? If so, that was probably not super safe.
Once after we got tired of exploring the barn, the three of us decided to keep walking down the dirt road. When we got to the end of it, we turned left, and another left, and another left until we were home. When we finally got back, our parents were all worried and wondered where we’d been. One of them said, “When you live here, you can’t just go for a walk around the block. Out in the country, that’s a pretty long walk”. Google Maps says it was three miles.
Look at the bottom right corner of the property, and you’ll see a garage. In the spring, we made maple syrup in that garage, heating the sap over and and over until it was dark and thick. In the fall, we rented an apple crusher and made cider in the same garage. At one point my parents built a chicken coop behind the garage and we kept hens. This is a very foggy memory. It might be completely fabricated, but I’m pretty sure there was chickens. No, I’m sure there were chickens. When we moved to Pennsylvania we towed the VW Bus behind the Uhaul and the chickens rode in the bus.
You can’t tell from here, but there are lilac bushes there too, next to the garage. The way a few of them arched their branches together, they made a little cave where we’d hide and make pretend hamburger patties out of grass clippings. There were birds who made their nests in those lilac bushes too. One day I got a pair of old skis from the garage and asked my mom to help me put them on so that I could slide noiselessly across the grass, sneak up to the birds, and kill them with sticks. My mom suggested I find a different activity.
There’s a driveway curving down and around the house, framing it in a lopsided rectangle. I can see myself running down that driveway after my dad as he pulled away in our vintage orange VW Bus. I was crying, because he was going to work and wouldn’t take me with him. His those days he was around the house more than most dads, but I didn’t know that. All I know is that I wanted to be in that orange VW Bus with him, and I couldn’t understand I couldn’t be.
Tonight we visited the school where my boys are going to start classes next week; the little one is going into pre-school and the big one is going into first grade. They’re the same age I was when I misunderstood wiffle ball and hid from wolves and robbers and explored dangerous barns and hid under the lilac bushes at 2013 E. Wilson Road.
I think about that all the time now: how they’re going to remember these days the same way I remember my childhood home. Clear, like a photograph slightly yellow with age but infused with memories.
Mostly, when they run after after me as I leave for work, I feel myself running after that VW Bus again. I can’t put into words the sort of miracle this thing is, the simple adoration we had for our fathers when we were in first grade. I also can’t go back to that gravel driveway anymore, but sometimes, I can see myself now, the way I saw my dad then, a grownup backlit by the innocence of childhood admiration
These days I’m trying to think less and write more of whatever the hell comes out of my fingers when I sit down at my computer, so as to make blogging fun again. This is part of that. Join us: MakeBloggingFunAgain.com
published August 26, 2016
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