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©June 2004

Carol Jane Remsburg



Crumbling Memories



Thomas Wolfe's famed play – "You Can't Go Home Again," is true in many ways if you allow enough time to pass.  I went 'home' last week for the first time in almost fifteen years, but it felt more like twenty or thirty years had passed since I'd been there.  Some things, like the church, the tombstones, and the fragrance of the boxwoods surrounding the church are ageless.  It is that feeling of immense age and quiet tranquility that still fill the soul as the great gray stone church sits in the middle of town during the height of a holiday weekend surprises me not at all.


I was on my way home from Baltimore back to my home on the lower 'Shore of MD when I knew I couldn't just breeze by, I had to go home.  We'd moved from the mid-shore down to the Salisbury area when I was about three years-old yet we spent many weekends, holidays, and summer vacations where I felt WAS home and stubbornly fought against accepting our new locale as any real type of home.  We had no family in this area save those living in our house.  Why, back home everyone knew us, it was safe for a child to walk through town without an adult where every front porch offered shade during the summertime along with a cool drink of lemonade or iced tea and maybe a cookie or two if you had some tidbit of gossip to share.  From my earliest years through my late teens, home was still Saint Michaels and not Salisbury. 


Yet, it was Salisbury where I really grew up, went to school, found my first job, made new friends.  It didn't really matter though, I never felt I belonged there and was vehement about it to all who would listen.  Those times of summer vacations and visits back home I reveled in. 


When I married at 21, I kept a promise I gave to my grandmother when I was little—I'd get married in the Christ Church in Saint Michaels.  It was a traveling fiasco to all who attended but worth it to me—now some 23 years later—likely worth it for in that church where I'd played as a small child, I meant the vows I spoke there.


My paternal grandmother lived in town in a small little house and everyone knew Miss Ida.  I could stroll every street in town and be as safe as I would be in her living room—all kept watch and would report back if I wasn't comporting myself properly.


My maternal grandparents lived down in Claiborne—a few miles away in a little, cheaply built home after the fire had destroyed their previous home.  They never had much but out in the country they didn't need it either.  They owned kennels boarding dogs and breeding dachshunds and selling whatever the Miles bounty had to offer in the way of seafood.  Out in the country, we kids had the freedom to play with abandon.  There was fishing from the old rowboat we could take out ourselves, riding our bikes as far as we felt like riding, playing with new puppies, or even mucking out the kennels—there was always something to do—after dinner there were always card games of Pitch or a round of 9-hole golf or even the mid-summer game of a cicada shell search.  Somehow entwined in it all whether in town or out in the country was this all-enveloping self of being where I belonged that I was from that place—that place which is home and of deep, long roots.


Now my grandparents on both sides have long passed on, as have my parents.  The house I grew up in is also housing strangers.  I've lived nearly the last twenty years in an old, small "Johnny-homeowner-fixer-upper" that will never be perfect and always considered a work-in-progress—but still that yearning to go home was there.  So I pulled off US Route 50 to find Route 33.  Even with all the holiday traffic—everything was familiar and I was eager to return if nothing more than a few pictures and to become awash with old, happy memories.  Things didn't turn out as I expected at all.


My first stop in town was a quick right off the main thoroughfare to my paternal grandmother's house.  I noticed EVERYTHING that was wrong with it right away.  Gone was the ivy that had once surrounded the house.  The gorgeous holly tree in the front yard was gone and replaced by two saplings that almost appeared to be dead.  Back behind her porch, the apple tree had also been hacked down.  The house, while respectable by any standards, appeared barren and cold.  It was also obvious no one was home—which was good for me because I was on the other side of the street in the school parking lot taking pictures.  Somehow I know the new owners might just wonder why I was doing that had they been home.  Still, the feeling I left with was that the house which had held so many happy memories for me was now only a shell of what it had once been.  Those who lived there might be very nice folks, but the house appeared cold and without the warmth of yesteryear.


From there I made my way back to main street and muddled through the Memorial Day weekend tourist crowds and found my usual parking space at the firehall behind the church.  Now the church was exactly the same as it's always been.  It stood tall, resolute, and maintained that quiet welcome that is eternal hushing all the noise and bustle surrounding it.  I strolled through the back gate and up the walk and through the boxwoods.  Their fragrance can't be reproduced anywhere and they are so tall you can hide in them as I once used to.  I took pictures of my grandparents grave—just to the right of the entry path to the front of the church and also that of Father Etherton and his wife who are dearly missed by all.  I lingered there as feelings of the past welled up along with my tears over the passage of time and those well-loved people missed.


I left the church and fell in amid the crowds and headed towards the Maritime Museum—not to visit but to make a small purchase to bring home to hubby and daughter.  I also snapped a pix of the lighthouse and the Crab Claw restaurant—neither had changed either.  That saddened my heart for the rest of the town save the church had expanded so much and all the old homes on main street weren't homes any longer—they were shops selling tourist items.  It was as if the essence of the town had died and the vultures were busy feeding off what was left of it.


Heading East, I picked Route 33 back up and hoped against hope that I wouldn't find what I expected.  The outskirts of Claiborne was my destination and my maternal grandparents home.  It had never been any great shakes, but if nothing else, the great trees, the shaded lane, and the little path down to the creek should still be there.


Somehow I knew it wouldn't be as I remembered or how I last saw it now nearly some fifteen years ago.  The property had been sold for a pittance to someone who couldn't renovate nor love it as we once did.


I wasn't surprised to find the old house now a shack and the property rundown.  Even worse were the majestic trees that had once surrounded the old house mostly gone, the old hedges covered in honeysuckle ripped out, and only one lonely hydrangea bush still struggling to live.  The heavy woods across the country road from the house were gone, just enough left to line the lane that had been labeled PRIVATE PROPERTY—which never kept us out before.  Down the old lane I went, all but weeping over the stumbling rot of grandmom's old house, the loss the great trees, and now the woods—but the little lane down to the creek should still be there---it had to be—but it wasn't.  Oh, the little offshoot of a path down the to creek was there along with a grand house atop what we used to call Indian hill.  All I could do was turn the truck around and leave knowing all that used to be was now no more.


Truly, only the church was the same keeping at bay the relentless tide of change, rot, and renewal.  Somehow, the new isn't shiny or hopeful, just tawdry and cold without any real sense of what came before it. 


The loss of what had been during the old days followed me all the way to my own house—our home, the one my husband and I made so many years ago.  It's the only home my daughter has ever known and the sight of the little old house with its brick front and clock atop the house made me realize where my REAL home is. 


Over the years I've come to adore not just the stately maples and the crop fields that surround us, but the creaky old house with it's leaks that we've fixed, the squeaks in the floorboards, the short ceilings, and even the molding that hubby never got around to putting up in the kitchen ceiling when we renovated it. 


And while I can never again resurrect those halcyon days of my memories, my ideals about what home is have finally changed.  It's taken nearly 40 years for it to happen, but pulling up the drive and opening the door to my less-than-stately-little dwelling, hugging my husband and daughter was an awaking to what home really means.  Yea Thomas, you may not ever be able to go BACK, but learning you are already there has no age requirements.


Me, I'm thankful and blessed—to be home once again.


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