Thomas Wolfe famously wrote that you can’t go home again. He was right in the context of his book, but sometimes you can go home again.
And maybe it won’t look very different.
An errand recently took me within a few blocks of my childhood home. It had been years since I’d spent much time in the old neighborhood so I decided to stop and see what the years had done to it.
The first stop was the corner where I met my first friend in the neighborhood. Boise’s North End was still developing then. The street in front of my parents’ house hadn’t even been paved yet. Now it’s an old, settled neighborhood.
My friend’s name was Timmy. We both would have been four years old at the time. Kids didn’t have as many diversions in those days, certainly none of the electronic variety that occupy so much of kids’ time today. We sat on the curb and played with rocks in the gutter.
The home were I grew up had hardly changed. The window shutters had been taken down and raised beds for plants dotted the lawn, but other than that it looked pretty much the same.
This was also true of what had been the Robertsons’ house next door. My sister was smitten by one of the Robertsons’ sons. She literally married the boy next door. A picture of his sister, Timmy, yours truly and some of the other neighborhood kids, taken in the Robertsons’ back yard, graces my office to this day. The yard hadn’t changed at all.
The next house on the block didn’t appear to have changed, either. It had belonged to a dentist, who may well have considered me the bane of his existence. All kids do stupid things from time to time; the good doctor’s house was the scene of two of my more memorable efforts in this regard.
The first was cutting down a tree he’d planted in his front yard. My intention was simply to do a little carving on the trunk with my pocket knife. One whittle led to another, and to my surprise the trunk snapped and the tree toppled over. My parents were mortified. I was grounded for the next year.
Not really. It was probably only a week or two. It just seemed like a year.
The second incident could have been a disaster. In his spare time, the dentist enjoyed woodworking. Beneath the table saw in his garage was a large pile of sawdust, which (it’s still hard to believe I actually did this) struck me as a good place to toss a lighted match.
Well, now! You can imagine my surprise when, in less time than it takes to scream “call the fire department,” a blaze of shocking proportions erupted. That match might as well have been tossed into a tub of gasoline. Horrified, I compounded the problem by running home and pretending as if nothing had happened.
It took about five minutes for the doc to put out the fire with a garden hose and arrive, fuming, on the doorstep of the neighborhood troublemaker. This led to a scene almost as heated in our garage, with my father chasing me around his Buick while I unsuccessfully attempted to outrun a spanking.
Up the block and around a corner was the onetime home of the witches. They weren’t witches, of course, but no one could have convinced the neighborhood kids of that. The “witches,” two elderly, reclusive women, lived in a tiny house on an alley. The house had an ancient smokestack from which plumes of dark smoke ominously rose. We were reasonably certain that the source of the smoke was a fire under their caldron.
The house next-door to theirs was the home of a girl who spent countless hours on a swing in her back yard. It was a big, home-made swing, and she swung so high it looked as if she was trying to reach the clouds. My folks worried that she might go over the top and come to earth in a painful crash. She not only never did that, she went on to take flying lessons and, the last I heard, was well on her way to becoming an airline pilot.
The opposite end of the block from the witches was home to Ed and Anna Chamberlain. Anna was rarely seen, and on the infrequent occasions when she was she almost always seemed to be dressed in black. We’d have suspected that she was a witch if she hadn’t been married to Ed, a pleasantly gregarious old fellow who vied for the honor of being the slowest driver in town, if not the entire state.
Ed drove an Oldsmobile station wagon. You wanted to avoid getting behind it, especially if you were in a hurry, because it seldom exceeded the dizzying speed of 10 mph. Ed routinely had a parade of angry motorists behind him. He was not a man to be rushed, and was happily oblivious to the cacophony of horn honking he provoked, which had no effect whatsoever.
Howard Snyder, the neighborhood handyman, advised him to take the Oldsmobile out on the highway and drive it fast enough to burn the carbon deposits out of the engine. To universal surprise, he actually did it.
“Took it out on the highway and drove the hell out of it,” he told Howard.
“How fast did you get it up to, Ed?”
“Like I told you, I drove the hell out of it. Had it up to 40 mph.”
Howard’s was the only house in the neighborhood that had significantly changed. A modest home during his tenure, it had been enlarged and attractively remodeled.
When my childhood home went on the market – this would have been a couple of decades ago, give or take – a real estate agent asked me if I’d like to go through it. I did, and briefly toyed with the idea of buying it. The price was reasonable, and the idea of moving back to the old neighborhood wasn’t without a certain appeal. My wife and I were happy in the home we’d built, however, and decided against it.
My folks built their dream home, including the lot, for $13,000. Its estimated value today, according to Zillow, is $779,000.
That, without a close second, was the neighborhood’s biggest change.