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Monday, April 15, 2013

Going Back Home

3450 Prospect Avenue, Riverside, California was my home with Grandmother Darling from September of 1943 to April of 1945. The thought of it always brings a smile to my lips. Small, adobe, tile roof, with arched wooden door and windows with flower boxes. Set on the crest of an arroyo and nestled beneath a large shady pepper tree it presented a perfect picture of California to the seventeen year old Minnesota girl I was when I arrived. If you put my white-haired, blue-eyed smiling grandmother on the front walk coming toward me with open arms you'll get the picture. My first home away from home. I hadn’t seen this little gem of a house in all the years since. Lately I've been afraid to go there for fear of its having been over-run by the freeway that came later, or crumbled down in disrepair from old age. Last Sunday, however, I thought it was time.

The family, those of us living nearby, met at The Mission Inn for Sunday brunch. It was a kind of anniversary celebration in remembrance of the marriage of a young Marine fighter pilot and his bride in the Flyers’ Chapel dedicated to famous pilots such as Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Jimmy Doolittle. I wanted our grandchildren and children to see the place. I wanted to remember the day sixty-eight years ago this month when CaptainWallace Ginder Wethe and Joyce Darling Hahn became one.

First we went to the all-you-can-eat buffet. It was a feast fit for kings and queens. (About as expensive too!) Then the concierge opened up the chapel for us to go in. Small, narrow, darkly lit by stained glass windows, it didn't look the same as when white candelabra glowed at the ends of each pew and on the altar. The gold plated altar still gleamed however. I alone could hear organ music in memory, the scent of orange blossoms in my bouquet and the tall vases of Easter lilies on the altar steps. Still, the sun shone outside by the fountain and I pointed out to the family the balcony where I threw my bouquet out to my college girl friends.

Afterwards we drove the few blocks to find Grandmother’s house. It was still there. I was delighted to see that it had remained unchanged and was obviously loved and kept up. I wept in joy as I stood there, memories flooding over me like sunbeams and shadows. I didn't go to the door. It was enough. I wanted to remember the inside as it had been, charming with a fireplace flanked by French doors, a spinet piano, cozy pillowed sofa and arm chairs. Grandmother's bedroom always smelled of her violet perfume and the bathroom had a large white claw-footed tub. In the roomy kitchen a pretty breakfast nook served as the dining room in order to free up the space at the end of the living room for the piano Grandmother had bought just for me. A screened-in laundry porch with a Dutch door led to a postage sized back yard graced by a canopied swing overlooking the arroyo toward the city college I attended. Here we had a full view of sunsets with Mount Pachapa on the south and Mount Rubidoux in the west. Even today the heady fragrance of pepper seeds and geraniums always remind me of that spot where I'd sit with Grandmother and ply her with questions about her own youth. 

Sometimes going back home can be a sad occasion. Like when I went to see the corner of highways 52 and 16 in southern Minnesota where I grew up in the family gas station home my father had built. It was gone. I mean gone to the point of my not finding one single evidence of there ever having been anything there at all. My childhood home reverted to farmland! The whole place as if it had never been; as if Daddy had never planted a tree, dug a well, built a house, waited on cars at the gas pumps. If I could have found one single tangible sign I'd have treasured it, framed it, put it on the mantel, but there was nothing.

Wally G. and I once went to see his childhood home in Minneapolis and what was once a charming neighborhood of large Victorian homes had become run down and neglected. Hippies hanging out the windows, littered lawns and peeling paint. We couldn’t leave fast enough.

Once when we went back to see the large country estate in Northbrook Illinois where Robin, our youngest child, was born we had to drive by several times before we realized that tract houses had taken over the site. 

Some people stay in their childhood homes all their lives. That sounds sweet and nostalgic, but in thinking back of all the places I’ve loved and called home since my first one, I'd have to erase many other fond memories. Home is more than a place. I can’t imagine my next home, if there is to be one, nor do I try, but I am quite sure that wherever I go, even into the hereafter, I shall be blessed with home.

One of my favorite things to do is drive around strange neighborhoods and imagine what it might be like to pick out a house, move in and call it home. I don't think I'd ever go back to a former home though. Well, maybe to Grandmother's little adobe house, but without her? No, there's no going back home. As sure as a turtle's shell it always goes along with us in some form. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Tried to attach a picture of the spot, but, you'll have to take JWR's description...and it's a pretty good one I must say!