Growing at 30 Green Street

My mother could make anything grow.  I was reminded of this yesterday when I drove to western Massachusetts to see my sister Teri. Teri still lives in the town where we grew up.  I arrived early, so instead of going straight to her apartment, I took a short detour and drove by the house my family occupied during my childhood.  I parked my car across the street and surveyed the outside of 30 Green Street.

I was struck by what a small house it is.  Certainly, when I was a child, it did not seem small, but it is around fifteen hundred square feet, with three bedrooms and one bath; hardly a palace for a family of ten.  When we first owned the house, it was painted gray, and then brown, and then, for many years, it was green. 

The little house is a delicate shade of yellow now, with lavender and white gingerbread trim, and the front garden is lined with a black plastic border and solar lights.  My mother and I planted flowers in that garden- holly hocks and snap dragons along the porch wall, portulaka, petunias and marigolds in the middle, and dusty miller and hens and chickens along the brick path.  In the back yard, there were vegetables- peas, tomatoes and beans, squash and cucumbers.  My mother’s gardens were robust and prolific, bursting with color and ripe with fruit.  The first year she turned up the earth, my father stood on the porch and declared, “Nothing will grow in that dirt.”  But my mother believed that she could plant a garden and let it grow.  A few months later, she had vegetables to feed her family and flowers to line the side walk.

When I was young, the north side of the house was shaded by a large catalpa tree that dropped its flowers and beans on the ebony earth where grass refused to grow.    We called it the side yard, and used the patches of bare dirt to play tic-tac-toe, scratching our marks with sticks.  My mother planted coleus that turned the barren areas to lush Persian rugs.  The catalpa tree was taken down and we planted a blue spruce seedling in its place. When my children were in elementary school, we paid a visit and I took a snap shot of the three of them, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of its huge trunk.  Yesterday, I was crushed to see that the blue spruce had been cut down.  Only its stump remained as a reminder of what was once a magnificent conifer.

I slowly drove down Dye House Hill, peering through wooded areas to see the river.  During the springs of my childhood, the river fervently rushed across its bed, bubbling and cresting around the rocks and along the banks. Down by the river was where my sister and I played Tarzan and made “medicine” for mosquito bites out of stem sap.  Down by the river was where we went to think, and explore, and push each other into skunk cabbage.  Down by the river is where our cats, Perfidia, Tuti-Fruity, Inky and Horatio hunted for mice and moles to triumphantly bring home and lay on the porch as gifts for their family.

But now, the river is gone.  The water is dried up, the banks overgrown with trees and shrubs. 

I drove slowly down the hill, past the bridge where I waited for the bus on rainy April mornings, past the church steps I climbed every afternoon on my way home from school.  The mill was abandoned.  The stores had new owners and new signs.  The pharmacy with its lunch counter was gone.  The Post Office had moved.  Nothing was the same.  

“Everything has changed,” I thought sadly.  “Everything has changed.”

I was sad for most of the ride back to New Hampshire.  Then it occurred to me.  The little yellow house is a building.  It is not the people who were in it.   Down by the river is a place.  It is not the people who played there.  It is not the granite retainer walls or the tree, or the flowers that I miss.  What I miss is the children who jumped off the porch steps two at a time, and played hopscotch in the driveway.  I miss the adventure of exploring down by the river, the contentment of snuggling close to a new baby brother or sister, and the delight of crowding all eight of us into the way back of the station wagon to go for ice cream on a hot summer night.  My soul does not ache for the walls of the house on 30 Green Street.  It aches for the people inside those walls, who filled it with laughter, who filled it with love.

So today, I am going to touch base with those people who lived with me at 30 Green Street.  I will tell my siblings that I love them.  I will whisper a prayer for our Mom and Dad and with a lump in my throat, remind myself that we will someday be together again.  I will make sure that my children know that it is not so important where you live as it is with whom you live.  Like my mother did, I will plant my garden and watch it grow.

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