When singer Billy Joel was being interviewed by Playboy many years ago, he took the reporter out to the dock behind his Long Island home. It was night and the house glowed with warm light. Joel confessed to the reporter, "I keep waiting for the parents to come home."
The idea that we are living in our parents' home even when we're the ones making the mortgage payments is a powerful one. It was only some months after we bought our current home five years ago that I realized that I had unintentionally but delightfully bought an upgraded version of the house I grew up in. The house I grew up in was built in 1956; our current home was built in 1960. They were admittedly tract homes, but I like the consistency that a tract brings.
There were, of course, numerous apartments and condos and townhouses in the interim; young-adult accommodations that had their own sense of excitement and enjoyment. But I have to admit that there is nothing so comforting as coming home to a home that feels like a home is supposed to feel.
Because California real estate is a strange and unexpected world, the house in which I was raised has already been razed and replaced by a McMansion. But like our current house, it had a family room with a fireplace and a living room with a fireplace. It had an expansive backyard that was, in fact, two lots; another house has already been built on the second lot. We currently have a pie-shaped lot that provides plenty of space for gardening and other pursuits.
But there are totems in our current house that carry fond memories of that long-gone home. A conch shell (above), origins unknown, sits on our hearth, just as it did in the house of my childhood. A Howard Miller Westminster chime clock sits on the mantel, just as one from Seth Thomas did before. The family photograph that was shot in our living room in 1968 hangs on the wall in the upstairs hallway.
How strange to find that the memories and archetypes of childhood are so strong that they would infuse my adult life. On the other hand, growing up in the 50s and 60s in suburban California contributed to more archetypes than my own. I never thought that the tree-lined streets of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best were fake — that was exactly what my neighborhood looked like. It’s what my neighborhood still looks like.
Of course, the ironies here are thick enough to cut with a knife. While my childhood may have been physically comfortable, it was not emotionally comfortable. The unhappy memories outnumber the happy ones considerably. Perhaps that's why I love our current house so much. I'm not waiting for the parents to come home. This time around, I get to be the adult.