I remember the green glasses at the dinner table, rough and bumpy, heavy, hard for little hands to hold. Sitting late at night, filled with cornbread and buttermilk, a treat for him the rest of us turned our noses at.
I remember waking before dawn, peering down the hall in the darkness, waiting for the first stirrings and the big shoulders at the sink, creeping in to check my imagined wakings and being sent back to bed until light began to appear on the horizon and I could sit with him while he drank his coffee and read the paper.
Gone far too soon, I have too few memories, and then the chair opposite hers sat empty. Oh others held audience there, but none like him. My mother, my uncle, companions to fill her time and keep her attention, a revolving crew of grandkids who fought for the right to claim that seat. Looking out the picture window at the driveway sloping toward the quiet street, the rocks in the bed collected on various adventures, pickups carrying layers of dust coming to and from the fields, life passed by.
Time passed, things changed, but the chairs flanking that window were constants. And the swing in the back. And the line of pine trees. I remember swinging with all our might to pull the sour grapes from the vine that twined through the trellis above the swing. Spending hours huddled in the basement on summer nights, waiting for the sirens to stop and the storm to pass. Eating thin buttered toast, crunchy from the funny double-doored oven and malt-o-meal on tv trays for breakfast. Sitting opposite her in that chair, reading Prevention magazine.
And of course there were birthdays and Christmas and dinners and events. But I treasured the time I spent there alone, the only girl and favored a bit, safe there and loved. I resented having to share her with a new family. I resented her splitting her time between that home and another house. I felt the loss each time I passed by on my way anywhere, since she presided over my main route, and her carport sat empty.
And then, suddenly, with an addressed invitation to my graduation not yet arrived in her mailbox, she was gone. The house filled with busy women, holding off the grief with idle chatter and food. Asking questions to which I had no answer. Talking on the phone to relatives and step-relatives I didn't even know, relaying details of an event I could not comprehend. Time passed in a whirlwind and a blur, but I remember him sitting down in that chair, looking so much like his brother who had been gone so long, and feeling the memories flood back to me. For once, someone belonged to that chair, that place again, even if only for a moment.
I sat in the swing in back on my 18th birthday, still grieving, and felt awareness of my own life dawn as my mother plucked my first gray hair. I cherished the sparkling new Pontiac Grand-Am she gave me for graduation that she never even got to see. I drove it away into my new life, leaving behind that place.
And time marched on. Construction crews and con-artists changed the house, putting pressure on the foundation that finally caused it to crack. My mother could not let go. She clung to the memories desperately, driving the wedge deeper and deeper. My brother lived in that house, vastly different, yet still the same somehow, and watched as everything crumbled. I spent only one summer there, and left in August knowing home had vanished, never to be returned to again. And through it all, the chairs never changed. Oh furniture came and went, but always always two chairs flanked the window, looking out on a street that saw less and less traffic.
My firstborn visited that house only once, barely old enough to hold her head up. The sign already in the yard, the leaving already done. Now the swing is gone, the rocks are no longer in the bed, the pine trees have been cut down, and Pontiac is a brand of the past. Strangers live in my house, the house that holds the roots of my family tree. Chairs no longer flank the window. My grandparents and my uncle lie beneath a stone a few miles down the dust road. My mother sits in other chairs, looking out other windows, with someone who fits somehow better than my father, in the puzzle of her life.
There is no where to go home to.
But I have the green glasses.