Places have so much power in our lives. It’s amazing to me that a certain house, a building where memories were made, can be immortalized in one’s thoughts forever, never changing despite the reality of the passing time. One of those places is my grandmother’s house in Salem, Illinois.
I hadn’t been back there since I was twelve, when we mourned her passing and celebrated her life- “Grandma Guire” as all the grandkids called her. I remember finding out when she died. I sat in our study and listened to my dad’s old vinyl of Don McLean’s “American Pie” over and over, and cried. That was how I said goodbye.
Growing up, her house was everything a kid could ask for. The smell of home cooked dinner waiting on the table when we walked in, the small town feel that was so foreign to me as a city kid. We sat on her porch swing and rocked, and she would tell me stories about when she was little. How she dyed a billy goat blue with berry juice, and how she went to work in a shoe factory when she was sixteen. Her stories were so thrilling to me, so adventurous. She seemed so innocent, but with a subtle streak of mischief that I just loved to uncover. Most of all, she had a way of making you feel like the most important person in the world.
One summer, I shaved my legs for the first time while I was visiting, and I remember feeling a little squeal of rebellious excitement overtake me when I thought about how she and my parents would react. I was growing up, and nothing could stop me. But now that I look back, I wish that I wouldn’t have wanted to speed up my life. I would love to be back there sometimes, in the simplicity of those moments with her, my parents, and my aunts, uncles and cousins. Every time we left, she would stand on the porch and wave her handkerchief and cry. It made you just want to turn around and never leave, which I’m sure would have been just fine with her. I know she loved her family more than anything.
Seeing Salem again was like visiting the Holy Land– it seems frozen in time, despite all evidence to the contrary. When I am there, I feel like I am reliving the 50′s, 60′, 70′s- seeing what it was like for my dad to grow up in this small town, and to wonder what was out there in the world. What would be just another forgettable little town, and a quaint little house on a forgotten street, is a magical place to me, charged with memories, moments, and most of all, love.