When I was young, I moved a few times. There were a few moves before I’d even hit the age of remembering what was happening to me, but the first real home I can recall was a large two-story home about 10 miles outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
It was a dream — a big house on a big lot with a corn field backing up onto the backyard. I remember playing hide and seek with my sister in the cornfield and occasionally a friend that I would have over. My mom tended a garden in the back with all sorts of items, including tomatoes and even some blueberry bushes. The backdoor had a huge step down, especially for a six-year old, and I remember watching Haley’s Comet from the spacious backyard that was as large to me at the time as all of outer space.
In the front was our road — we lived on a cul-de-sac so there wasn’t much in terms of traffic. Our cat, Princess, had kittens during our time there. We took most to North Dakota and released them on Grandma’s farm, but we kept one, which us kids named Jamie. That kitten was hit by a car on that cul-de-sac, the road with virtually no traffic. I practiced riding my bike on the road, but didn’t perfect my cycling skills until we’d moved to Phoenix, Arizona the summer before my third grade year.
Phoenix was hot.
No joke — the place does have a dry heat. Those who grow up in the Midwest with the humidity of 98% on an August afternoon can’t comprehend the heat. But, that’s not what I remember about my home. Sure, we had cactus growing in our neighbor’s yard — if you can call a gravel-filled space a yard. The grass in our backyard was brown most of the year and we rarely had to mow it. All of the homes in our subdivision had a six-foot tall block wall separating us from our neighbors, but our neighbor to the north had a Great Dane who could place his front paws on top of the wall and peer over. As you can imagine, that didn’t make Princess thrilled to be in the backyard.
The thing I remember about Phoenix was my friends. I went to church at Orangewood Church of the Nazarene and quickly was made a part of perhaps the best group of friends I’ve ever had in my life. Adam, Brent, Ben and Josh. Later Brad moved in from Indiana and Josh moved off to Idaho, but the friendships I developed will stick with me for the rest of my life. The time we would spend playing football in a grassy lot after church was finished each Sunday morning are some of the best memories I have in my life. One of the biggest regrets of my life wasn’t moving from Phoenix to the suburbs of Chicago — it was not keeping in touch with some of the greatest friends I’d ever made.
Once in Illinois, I was immediately thrown into a tough situation. I had gone through sixth grade in elementary school in Arizona, but at my new school, sixth grade was part of middle school. All the kids I was now joining in seventh grade had already bonded and made friends the year before. I was an easy target for bullies and it took a while to make friends. I went out for football that 7th grade year — and then was diagnosed with mono a few weeks into school. Already out sick for two weeks and unable to stay on the football team. Not a great way to start.
The new house was about 40 minutes outside Chicago and one of my first memories of the house was a wasp nest. The house had sat empty for so long before my parents bought it that a wasp colony had invaded one of the eaves and had built itself into the wall and even slightly into my bedroom. It was taken care of fairly quickly, but there was always a nagging fear early on that wasps would take over my room.
Junior high and high school wasn’t always great, but I did eventually make friends. Some friends I have managed to stay in contact with even today.
This look back is really because I was thinking about why writing and the love of books is so important to me. I suppose it’s because I was never able to make those lasting memories and friendships from one location to another. What did I have? The books that sat on the same bookshelf year after year. The dusty pages with stories that entertained me again and again never went away. Even if I went somewhere else, I could always take them along.
Even today, I’ve now lived in one spot longer than any other in my life, but the books and stories will always have a special place, both in my heart, and in my home.