Yesterday, I took my 13 year old daughter to Plymouth for a history visit. The plan to see Plimoth Plantation was mentally scrapped at the halfway point of our 75 minute drive south. After all, we’d been there only a year before and on the same exact day. I know this because I was standing in the dirt, just outside one of the thatched roof homes, the day I got a phone call that my brother had died in a Brazilian hospital room, thousands of miles away.
That the one perfect day in our schedules which could accommodate a field trip happened to fall on this precise date was not lost on anyone, let alone my two kids. In the end, with the younger one under the weather, my teenager took one for the team and encouraged us to go anyway.
“How do you feel if we skip the Plantation today?” I asked when we were in the center of town. “You’ve seen it a lot already. We could look at other stuff.”
“Like what?” she answered, adjusting her headphones.
“I don’t know. You want to see where I grew up? I’ve never showed you that, right?”
“Sure. I’d like that.”
As we continued to drive south for the next 20 minutes, winding through ocean facing streets that I haven’t regularly seen in more than 25 years, but can still follow precisely in my head even when hundreds of miles away, I’d point out historic Plymouth landmarks.
“That house is where I quit piano lessons when the teacher realized I’d been faking and not really reading music.”
“That’s my favorite street and view.”
“That’s one of the sirens that would blare in the event of a nuclear disaster, summoning death.”
“Uh huh… Wait. What?”
“That’s the rock my parents made me swim out to. I was afraid of sharks. I did it for a coloring book. A coloring book!”
“Wait. Didn’t you tell me they found sharks there?”
“Yes! Great Whites! We read about that a few years ago, remember? I texted Mimi to say, ‘I TOLD you there were sharks!’ I never even got that book!”
“Ha. Yeah. Creepy.”
“That’s the convenience store I used to work at where I stole Creamsicles.”
“You did what?”
“I stole Creamsicles. A lot. All the time, actually. Sometimes cigarettes too.”
“Yeah, I uh… did some things when I was younger…”
At some point the headphones slipped off as we visited my history: I pointed out the house where the lady once threw dead fish at us, insistent that the beach was private property (it wasn’t). I pointed out the Lobster Pound – where we’d buy our fish, lobsters, and steamers, and where my father would tease my mother by parking dangerously close to a dramatic drop off to the ocean (which now includes a death marker for my first crush who was not Sean Cassidy). I pointed out the site of our favorite breakfast place, Jack’s, where I’d happily join my father any chance I got so that I could pine over the grill cook (I did this for too many years). I pointed out the street where I almost got run over on my bike and where I was called an “ass hole” by a very frightened adult driver.
“How old were you?” she asked.
“I don’t know… 10 or 11? Definitely pre-helmet days.”
“God…” replied my safety conscious teen, shaking her head.
The landmarks came faster and faster as we began the drive into my neighborhood, the distance between them much shorter than I had remembered from a time when this place had been my entire universe.
“There’s the cranberry bog where I learned to ice skate. I found a giant bullfrog there one night with Amy when we weren’t supposed to be out. There’s my grandfather’s old house. There’s Amy’s house! There’s the yard where that girl punched me in the stomach after I hit her over the head with my baton. This is the street we used to sled down…”
And then we got to the house. It looked so much smaller than I’d remembered, even smaller than when I visited it last year, just a few weeks after Scott died and I’d made the same drive and for the same reason. Even smaller than it had looked the two years before that, just a few days after our dad died and I’d made the same drive and for the same reason.
“That’s the house. Our house.”
She looked at the tiny white house.
“That little window in the middle? The octagon? That was in Scott’s room, in the closet. The room next to it was my parent’s and my room was behind. Those windows? That was the dining room and the windows on the other side was the living room.”
“It’s so small,” she said.
“Yeah, I guess it is, but it doesn’t seem small when I think about it. And it didn’t seem small when we lived there.”
“Was that fence always like that?” she asked, pointing to rotted and falling down sections of a six foot privacy fence that once blocked our yard from the neighbor’s.
“No. It stood tall and was probably almost new when I lived here. Sissy Boo (my cat) used to jump to its top and walk among the peaks.”
We continued driving to the end of the street, landmarks in every direction for the next 100 yards or so before it was time to turn around.
“Are you bored? This isn’t very interesting to you, is it?” I asked.
“No! I like it. It is interesting.”
“Really? Okay, good. I just thought you might like to see where my life started.”
“I do, but I thought it made you sad to come back here.”
“It did. And it still does,” I admitted. “But not today. Today I’m happy to remember it all and see it all. This is the good stuff. And the bad stuff, but mostly good.”
“It’s weird to think that someday I’ll look back on where we live now like this,” she said, looking out the window as we left my past. “Do you think I will?”
“I hope so,” I said. “And I hope it’s good.”
[Photo: Burial Hill, School Street, Plymouth, MA by Karina Coombs]