Out on the Weekend


 by Terry Barr
            The television in my parents’ den shows Yankee great Bernie Williams socking a double between right and center field. In this playoff round of 1996, the Yankees will take down the Texas Rangers and go on to win four in a row from the Atlanta Braves after dropping the first two games of their World Series.
            The Yankees have moved back into their traditional home: World Champions in the House That Ruth Built, particularly the part of that mansion where trophies are celebrated. That space in their dynastic mansion had been closed off for seventeen years, and the stirred dust from all the covered hardware makes me wheeze.
            I’m wheezing even more because my parents are moving into their new home, and my wife, two young daughters, and I are helping in the initial clean up, packing, and removal stage. My mother keeps a neat and tidy house, but not even she can get to the layers of dead skin and other matter we call “dust” that’s accumulated behind the beds, the den sofa and TV. Is it possible that a mote of dust I’m inhaling could be lingering from the days of precious antiques harkening back to when my grandmother, “Nanny,” lived here? Or farther back, to the residual time of garden soil or telephone wire that my grandfather, whom I never knew, brought inside from his leisure or work hours?
            I thought my parents would never leave this house, the house that first my mother and then I grew up in. I suppose most children and adult children believe the place they’ve spent their entire lives, or at least the first twenty years of life, will endure forever in the way and form they knew it.
            In Alabama, though, landscape-shifts occur all-too-frequently, and they especially did from the year 1954 through the end of the 1980s. “Blockbusting,” “bringing down the property values,” redrawing school zone lines, and “busing to achieve racial balance”: these factors upheaved Alabama neighborhoods in ways that in other parts of the world only ethnic pogroms, strafing air strikes, and whirling tsunamis could.
My parents stayed put in their neighborhood until 1996, though most of their neighbors had already moved to gated communities, lake houses, or in more natural cases, nursing homes. They didn’t much like it, but they stayed for a decade after an African American family moved in next door, in the Lewis’s old house. The Lewises built a modern brick home right after the Hale family burned down the part-tarpaper house that had previously sat at 1820 Fairfax Avenue. The Hale family was indeed white, though Mrs. Hale claimed to be one-third Cherokee. To me, though, she was a witch. Her husband, W.D., was a Trash Man who made tonic on the side. And maybe it was a new batch of tonic, or an archaic spell, that caused their house to erupt in flames, setting our house on fire with it. Ours survived and was rebuilt with a new bedroom and a new den where our TV sat centered against the back wall for the next thirty-five years.
            We rarely saw the Hales after they “moved out,” but when Mrs. Hale died, she had herself cremated so that her ashes could be taken up into a plane and strewn across our town. Now that’s what I call leaving home with a flourish.
            Though my parents were confused for years over their new African American neighbors’ names—Dad thought they were the Williams and Mom thought they were the Masons (Mom was right)—both women ended up cooking for each other, visiting in the front yard, and sometimes even talking for spells on the front porch.
Life does go on, even in Alabama.
Until it doesn’t. One Sunday afternoon in the late summer of 1996, a car drove down our street as a couple of young-ish Black men walked by. A round of gunshots sprayed the air. Not only have I never known, I’ve never asked if anyone was killed that day. Mainly, after my mother called my South Carolina home to tell me that she and Dad would be moving as soon as they could find a new place, I fixated on what I had always considered unthinkable: one day, a new family would be eating, defecating, living in the space I used to call home, and I would never see the floor registers where I sat for heat when I was a boy; the basement pipes where my cat Tom used to perch in winter; or that funny padlock on the handle dining room window, painted over countless times and existing for some forgotten purpose. The window opened, after all. All that and so much more would be lost to me.
I think I said something of this sort to my mother.
“Yes, but you do want us to be safe, don’t you?”
“Sure I do. But that was home.”
“I know, believe me I know, and I’m gonna miss it.”
What I thought at that moment was “Yeah, but how are you guys going to leave everything behind, or throw away the things that don’t make sense to take?” My parents are both OCD. What does moving do to OCD people in their mid-60s? I wondered on the day she called if they would be able to make this move when it really came down to it.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to wonder long. They found a house in the Lakewood section of town—the only section of town that was still predominantly white. A certain Mrs. Huey, whom I never knew, was selling and moving to a retirement village.  And so just like that, deeds were signed, agents were enlisted to sell our old place—actually, the agent was the boy who had grown up across the street from us, his family having moved away ten years earlier—and before I knew it, we were there again, inhaling old dust and watching the Yankees win, in the midst of sealing boxes and carting them to the car.
The real movers would arrive the following Monday, but on this early October Saturday, my father wanted me to help him move his lawn mowers to the new place. Funny isn’t it? The fine antique bedroom suite; the Wedgewood china; the Oriental Jade vases: these my parents left to the movers. The lawn mowers—a Toro and a Lawn Boy—Dad had to move himself. I don’t always refrain from asking why, but this time I did. I remember that after we tucked the precious tools into their new garage-home, Dad and I wound our way back to the old place. Just as we were turning out of the neighborhood, we heard that Alabama was thumping Kentucky and former Alabama coach, Bill Curry.
“How bout that?” Dad was elated.
And I was happy too, because I’m almost as great a Crimson Tide fan as he is. Was. He died in 2000.
How happy could I be on this day, though? About this victory, when I was on the verge of spending my last night ever in the house of my youth?
My wife and I made a pallet on the floor of my teenage bedroom—the one I moved into after Nanny died—for our girls that night, while we huddled under the covers of my old mahogany bed.
“Is this really happening?” I asked my wife.
“Yes, but it’s a good thing,” she said before turning over on her side and slowly, gently, beginning to snore.
It’s hard to believe now, but I’m sure I slept through the night, happy at least that when we left the next day for our home, I’d still be able to wave to my parents as they stood on the front lawn that my Dad took such great pains to keep immaculately covered in Zoysia grass.
“They could have been killed,” my wife reminded me in her soft tone as we drove off.
And it’s true.
What is also true is that when we returned that Christmas to their new home, what with all their furniture in place (though they had to sell several pieces because this home was somewhat smaller), and the TV set up in the new den, I didn’t feel as bad. It’s funny how a different home can feel old; that it can seem like a place you’ve always imagined or somehow seen yourself in.
It wasn’t a year after they moved that my mother said in one of our weekly Sunday calls: “I thought I’d miss our old house, but you know, I really don’t!”
How is that possible, I wondered? But I didn’t ask her. I was glad for her, and I thought, if she didn’t miss the old place, why should I?
Except that I do. It’s the house my parents were literally married in. The one where I played endless games of baseball and football in the front and backyard. It’s where my first bicycle was stolen the day after Christmas in 1966, and where I brought it back an hour later after my father and the Lewis’s granddaughter’s boyfriend caught the guys who stole it. It’s where my little brother and I shared baths and a bedroom for many years. Where my dogs and cats—Pat, Donald, Sandy, Happy I & II, Tom, Marshmallow, Henrietta, Louis, and Sylvester—lived.
The house that I never drive by when I return to our crime-ridden Alabama town.
The house at 1816 Fairfax Avenue. The one I still dream about.
But not the one I think of when someone asks, “Where is your home?” Nor do I think of the house my mother and Dad moved into almost twenty years ago, where my mother now has lived alone for the last fifteen years. Home, of course, is the house my wife and I live in, the one my daughters come back to from their schools and jobs. The one where our cat Morgan and dog Max live.
It’s where two pieces of furniture from that old home—a pine sideboard and an oak hunting table—adorn our dining room and den. Just like they did for all the days of my childhood.
William Faulkner once said, “The Past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.” I know what he means.

[Postscript: As I finish this essay on Memorial Weekend, 2015, Yankee great Bernie Williams is finally coming home, to the “new” Yankee Stadium, to be honored for his years as a Yankee. Williams was on four championship teams, but did not retire on good terms with Yankee ownership. Other Yankee legends including Jorge Posada will be back, too. The ceremonies will be pre-game, and then this year’s Yankees will meet, of course, the Texas Rangers on ESPN’s Sunday Night game of the week. It will seem very familiar, this stage, this stadium and field, just a half-block away from the House That Ruth Built. That old home. I’ll watch, but I won’t look too closely. For some dreams are worth keeping intact.]

Since last being published in Belle Reve, Terry Barr has had essays published in Red Truck Review, Red Fez, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Loud Zoo, and The Mid, and soon to be published in Hippocampus and Deep South Magazine. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family and teaches Southern Film and Creative Nonfiction at Presbyterian College.


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