Thursday, 18 February 2010

I've lived in a thousand houses

Growing up in Fl. with family in NJ and PA meant annual road trips up north to visit the family.

Yes, sometimes we flew, but more often than not, we would make it into a three-day-each way journey, complete with stops in Savannah to eat dinner at the Pirate House, a furniture shopping stop in North Carolina, and a visit to the tacky-but-irresistible South of the Border tourist trap.

But one of my most treasured memories of those long days in the car was looking at the houses we passed and creating stories about the people who lived there.

It could just be a fleeting glance as we sped past. I would memorize the color of the door, the front porch, the windows as we came up to a house, went in front of it, and drove on. If we stopped in front of a house, for a light or traffic, I would gather even more information for my story. The flowers. The fence. The swing set. Or the absence of all of those. Then the story would start.

I would begin by imagining that the house was mine. It was the place I came home to each day after school. With just that brief view in my head, I would image walking up to the door, seeing the porch, hearing my footsteps as I walked across the wood or concrete or dirt or stones that led up to the door. I would see the door in my mind, imagine reaching for the knob. Try to gather up how I felt coming home here. Happy? Sad? Hopeful? Scared?

Then I would picture walking inside. The light. The colors. The furniture and the pictures on the wall. The sounds and smells. Who would be there? I would imagine my family-of-that-house. Their names and who they were. Were they home when I got home? Or was the house empty? I would picture my room. Did I have a room to myself, or did I share. What did the bed feel like to lie in at night?

I was too young or too innocent to imagine that horrors could happen in any of my imaginary homes. I could picture sadness or even fear, but not terror.

I would go through a day and night in that house in my imagination, seeing myself as the person who lived there, maybe of a different skin color or religion or language, but always somehow still enough me to recognize. And always a girl.

Once I had exhausted one house in my imagination, I would pick another. I would look ahead and see it coming up, start to gather the details in my mind as it got closer.

I never wrote down any of those stories. But it was clear from those early trips that I was destined to be a writer. Those trips prepared me to live in other skins and see through other eyes.

I seldom get to spend much time on my imaginary homes these days (I am usually behind the wheel, driving my kids), but when I get a chance to be a passenger, I do find my old game coming back. And the other day, my youngest daughter told me from the backseat -- "Mama, when I see people out walking or in a store, sometimes I imagine that what it's like to be them." Another writer is born!

1 comment:

Mary Helen said...

I've always done the same thing! When I was a kid, and still to this day. It always gives me a little thrill to imagine living a different, random life.