My heart began to pound as I turned onto the familiar street, Westwood Lane. I knew before I left Tampa that I had to make the pilgrimage to see the house I grew up in, my mother’s house. So many happy memories filled my mind, along with the sadness that came with visiting this place for the first time since Mom’s passing. I drove slowly around the block that my friends and I used to walk and ride our bikes round and round, talking and laughing, solving all of our tweenage and teenage problems. The circular street had always seemed so big to me, but now it looked small, many of the houses appearing slightly shabby. I looked at the familiar dwellings, here a place where we had birthday parties, there a place that one of my close friends had lived. Doors I had knocked on for the eternal fundraisers I had to do for band and orchestra, for Halloween, or selling Girlscout cookies. There the house of my first boyfriend in all my 6th grade glory and wisdom. Life.
I had arranged to visit with our next door neighbor, Mrs. Buck, now eighty, who was a dear friend of Mom’s and whose children were my friends and playmates. There were some teary moments, but it was so good to talk with her and catch up with each other’s lives. She told me the man who lived in our old house really loved it and had made many improvements, offering to see if he was home so that I could take a tour. I didn’t feel ready to walk through the door and the rush of feeling that I knew would wash over me. It looked so different from the outside; the oak trees I used to climb were gone from the front yard, there was siding in place of the brick and stucco, a new roof instead of the one that leaked like a sieve. I smiled ruefully looking at my bedroom window that had been a jalousie window that I would break into when I had forgotten my key and came home from school when Mom was still at work cleaning houses.
Heavy D enjoying her castle…goofy as ever.
My mother loved this house. It was her freedom, the first house she bought after the divorce. With the vantage of time and having gone through the same thing myself, I can better understand how she must have felt; the fresh start, having something to hold onto and devote time and energy to that is yours. Mom wheeled and dealed, a parade of antiques coming in and out of the front door over the years. She became her own woman in this house, with all of the joys and struggles that came with it. I was so happy to know that someone lived there now who loved the house and was very happy there…Mom would have liked that, too.
The trip to Tampa was an emotional one on many levels. I went back to an old life- not only my childhood, but the life of my early years of teaching and my first marriage. I was in Tampa to attend the Florida Music Educators’ Conference on a recruiting trip for my university- a conference that I had attended since junior high as a member of the All-State bands, and then as a young band director. It was surreal to walk the exhibits and see the familiar faces of people I had gone to school with, students I had taught since middle school, some now teaching music at the university level themselves. I visited with my step-sister for only the second time since we reconnected on Facebook. All good things, but the totality leaving me emotionally drained. So much to take in, so many things rattling the cage of my heart.
I looked back at Tampa as my plane departed in the clear nighttime sky. My home for so many years, and a place that will always be a touchstone in many ways. So much has changed- I have changed. My home, my life, are in Birmingham with my sweet Dan now. But…sometimes it’s good to look back and visit with your younger self and remember where you came from. Perhaps it helps remind you of where you are headed and why, what is important, and how you became the person you are…and maybe most importantly, to be grateful for every step of the way and the lessons they bring. Goodbye, Tampa…