The woman who rang our doorbell said she had grown up in the house. Would it be alright if she showed her husband the backyard?
It turned out that the visitor was known to me - in a way. Her name is immortalized on the side of the basement door, along with those of her two brothers, on a homemade chart with their heights and years. The last mark was dated 1986.
After they moved out, the next owner did some remodeling, but left that part of the door untouched.
When we bought the house in 1993, I wondered about the children whose growth is charted on the door. I felt something in common with them besides the kitschy antique-car wallpaper and drippy faucets. The same walls that sheltered their family were now enclosing mine. I looked forward to adding my young son Ben's stats to the door.
I'm convinced that houses retain some aura of the people who once lived there. It isn't a mystical thing - at times it's more like an archeological dig. Bits and pieces left behind, like the old four-man toboggan we found upright in a closet.
But something of the previous occupants' lives remain.
As I talked to the woman, I saw her faraway look as she reimagined the places she had played. I mumbled something about wanting to revisit the house where I grew up - just to see what had been done to it. Did the people love it as much as my family had?
Later, I kicked myself for not inviting the visitors inside our house. But even if you do go home again, the house never looks the way you think it should.
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