Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Sleep rarely eludes me, but when it does I take a mental trip to the the golden past of boyhood, where all the days are sunny and summery, or Christmas-y.

I stand on the sidewalk in front of the first house I lived in. There it is, a cream-colored, clapboard, two-story house with a small detached garage to the right. It sits on a corner lot of some size on a tree-lined street. An alley runs behind it. The street at the front and to the left side of the house are unpaved, as were many streets in that small city where I was a boy in the 1940s.

The porch runs the width of the house. I walk up the steps to the porch and enter the front door, which opens into the living room. With sunlight streaming through the windows, I wander through the living room to the dining room and kitchen. I go out the back door to the enclosed back porch, from which I can see the garage and the back yard.

I return to the house and venture to the basement, with its huge, coal-fired furnace, coal bin, and my father's work shop. I go back up -- and then up again, climbing the stairs to the second story -- the stairs with a wrought-iron railing. I reach the upper hallway and visit, in turn, the three sunny bedrooms and the black-and-white tiled bathroom.

Yes, it was a modest house. But it was the first place I thought of as home, and it's a place that still seems golden in my memories. By the time my mental tour is complete, I am ready for sleep.

At other times I remember my grandmother's house in a small, lakeside village about 90 miles north of where I grew up. Her modest, two-story bungalow sat on a deep lot that backed up to open fields where doves cooed as I awoke on sunny, summer mornings to the smell of bacon frying. My favorite room was the kitchen, with its massive woodstove and huge, round, oak table, around which my grandmother, parents, and various aunts and uncles would sit after a meal, retelling and embellishing tales from the past.

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