Houses are keepers of memories

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 3, 2003

My grandmothers' houses are both for sale, again. On a recent trip through Luverne, I couldn't resist driving by the places that held so many memories from my childhood.

There was a man on a riding lawn mower in front of Grandmama's house and I almost stopped and asked if I could spend a few minutes sitting on the porch. The lily pond beside the house is gone now. I could see that from the road. I guess one of the families who lived there in the years since my grandmother filled it in.

That is sad to me because it was such a magical place when I was a child. I'd stare into the dark water and imagine the world beneath the lily pads. A world inhabited by the shining gold fish that I caught a glimpse of every now and then when the sunlight hit the water just right.

I thought the pond was bottomless and mysterious. Of course, when I got older I realized it was probably pretty shallow, but I never dared dip a foot in to see.

In my mind, I walk into the front room of her house and see the piano sitting beside French doors that open into the dining room. The clock that chimes every hour is on the mantle and the little round stool I got into so much trouble for rolling on is in the corner.

The delicate glass shoes sitting on the coffee table tempted my little hands, but were off limits. Beside the door leading to the hall, a six-legged table holds a tall painted lamp and some books.

I can see it as clearly as I did when I was a child running down that dark hall toward the sunny breakfast room.

As I pass the house, I wonder what happened to the funny lantern light that hung from the high hall ceiling. Is it still there or has it been replaced along with the old push button light switches?

I am lost in memories as I pass the post office and make a right turn. Down one block, I turn left and see Mama Helms' house, a "for sale" sign in the front yard. The years have not been kind to the old house and the porch doesn't look safe anymore.

How many afternoons did I swing on that porch? How many times did I hear grownups calling from inside?

"Don't be jumping off the edge of the porch.

You'll hurt yourself."

At the back of the house, the door leading inside is ajar. I see the old sink still hanging on the wall beside the door that goes into the room that served as a den and my grandmother's bedroom. I'd stop at that sink for a drink of cold water and to wash my hands after helping Mama Helms pick something wonderful from her garden.

The shop where my grandfather painted signs and built boats is gone. I remember the stories about the days when it was a blacksmith's shop and I used to imagine my grandfather shoeing a horse while its owner waited by the door.

I press the gas and take one last look at the house in my rearview mirror. How different it looks, how empty.

Later back at my home, I think about the two houses, places once so important in my life.

'It's sad," I whisper.

Then I see the glass shoes sitting on top of the chest in my bedroom, like they once sat on Grandmama's coffee table. In the living room, I touch the mirror behind my piano, the one that hung above the mantle in Mama Helm's house.

That is when I understand and I smile knowing houses might pass to other hands or even to destruction, but the memories and the love that lived inside their walls goes on for generations.