I took a week-long class in nonfiction writing at last month’s Port Townsend Writer’s Conference. One day our instructor, Professor Sayantani Dasgupta (author of Fire Girl) asked us to draw a map-diagram of our childhood home. Sayantani mentioned that drawing a diagram, a sketch, or a map is a great tool to unlock a piece of nonfiction writing. Today I wrote a short memoir piece as a companion to the map of my childhood home I drew at the conference. I thought twice about publishing this memory piece because it is a little sad. But I also feel that we all understand about childhood sadnesses and how it feels to look back on these times.
The Long White Driveway
The last thing you see in the rearview is the long driveway. The long gray-white concrete driveway that climbs the hill steeply, so steeply it makes you dizzy to think of it. You are in the back seat of your mother’s Blue VW bug, you and your sister, the rough texture of the narrow vinyl bench seat pebbling against your child-legs. It is you and your sister in this together from now on; your mother has allied her future to your stepfather, though you don’t know it yet. She turns onto the black asphalt street where you played so many long summer night games with the slew of neighborhood kids you will never see again. She puts the car in first gear and out the side window you see the giant maple tree guardian of the front yard for the last time, the dirt path curving around it that leads down, down, down, from the front yard up on the small hill down to the street.
You are saying goodbye to your childhood home, even though you don’t know it yet. The make-believe games behind beige living-room drapes, the corner that held the Christmas tree every year. The kitchen table where your mom sewed dresses from print-cotton fabric for school. That so-welcoming back yard with its high-flying swing set – you thought you could swing all the way up to the moon, didn’t you? – and behind, the hillside of blackberry tangles with tangy-sweet berries every August. You will dream in your sleep about this house, dreams in which you float through every room with perfect recall, dreams from which you awake with a vague sadness. The long driveway in the rearview mirror that lives only in your memory, for the rest of your life.
What do you remember most about your childhood home? Did you have a favorite place to spend time? What would you most like to say to your childhood self about that time of your life?