Once
It was always there.
We gathered,
Hunted through bedrooms
Drank glass-bottled Coca-Cola
(That only Grandma allowed)
And listened to our mothers laugh
With stories of remembered this and that
While pots of greens and peas waited
And cornbread heated up the place.
Three stories of questions.
Whose room was this?
The mirrored dressing table,
Missing the once bright maiden.
The son’s old zeppelin tilted
Against the wall,
Oh, that’s Jack’s old thing.
Imagined beasts
Contained
Among dusty ancient
Shadows, Basement
Inventions.
The Pecan tree, bare arms rising,
Giving to welcome us home.
Ring rosey ‘round your trunk
Your leaves, unremitting.
Still.
Sitting, long
Creaking chairs that joined
The everlasting conversations
That enclosed overhead,
Enveloping me long after
The waking hours.
Momma’s practiced hand
At the radiator dismissing the cold
Those mornings.
Porch gliding,
Grow-ups laughing,
Talking big on front lawns.
Same spot pictures
Of all of us in bunches
Marking years.
Perennial as ivy climbing up
Brick steps higher,
Higher.
       Years grown,
       Departed.
       Gone,
       Giving to welcome us home.

Now that I’ve settled down in one place, a beached wanderer I’d like to think, I’ve fallen in love hard with Pensacola. I had the pleasure of living on Gonzalez Street in East Hill for a few years when my children were young. Just living there in a house that was built in 1910 stirred my imagination intensely. Back in the day, streetcars ran by very near, conveying folks to downtown shops and shows just minutes away.  As I sat there on the porch, creaking in the swing with my two boys, we’d watch people as they’d get off at the corner bus stop. I couldn’t help but imagine the screeching of a streetcar against metal rails and picture ladies in their long sheath dresses alighting, holding their broad-brimmed hats, careful not to trip on the bricked roads as they made their way home. Inside, the gaslight fireplaces stood guard in each room. The old ornamental ceilings reminded us of days, years gone by, at how people cared deeply for craft and art and doing a job well. My personal favorite was the bathroom with the old fixtures, the claw tub, the black and white tile. Some things shouldn’t change, shouldn’t be upgraded. History is made to be admired, researched and pondered, learned from. Living in that house, I’m certain, was the genesis of my interest in writing historical fiction. It’s as if houses themselves have life in them. What we bring but also what we’ve left there.

Now that I’m a grandmother, gathering little ones together in my home, sitting on my own front porch, clutching my favorite coffee mug, watching my curly-headed babes run and play, my thoughts inevitably turn back to my own grandma’s house in Meridian, MS. This is where the Youngbloods would convene, merging forces and easing into their familiar style of story upon interrupted story.  I didn’t get to see Grandma much since we lived far away for most of my childhood, but when we did visit it was quite an experience far different from my life on the go. As authentic and pure as her fried okra, Grandma’s beguilingly unhurried manner cast a life-long southern spell upon me. But, what was as equally fascinating to me were my memories of her old house on Sixteenth Avenue. It was a treasure! Days we spent there were filled with discovery, of old, discarded items my mother would remark over, times of gathering pecans for pies out back, going down into scary basements, and simply the wonder of old gadgets that still worked. This was back in the days when parents expected kids to “run and play” and leave them alone in their conversations. It was up to us not to get hurt. So most days we’d be off to hunt things and explore, both inside and out.

I’m sad to say that my Grandma’s house is gone now.  It didn’t make the cut for neighborhood renewal. Not long ago, I drove down Sixteenth Avenue and tearfully sat in front of the empty lot, noting that even the porch steps were gone. Perhaps the house couldn’t survive without her, so it quietly died one day after she’d left the earth. Sitting there in my car with weeping eyes, I spied the only remaining recognizable evidence of our gatherings and our life there. It was the old pecan tree, arms still rising, there in the backyard. But it looked utterly sad too.

Drive along in the downtown area of Anytown, USA, you’ll see dozens of old houses, the older the city, the better. Pensacola, being one of the oldest cities in America, dating back to the 1500s, has time-honored homes in several neighborhoods of note, the most famous being the North Hill and East Hill communities. But, hey, don’t stop there! Head for the less celebrated areas. There’s the Navy Point community and the East Pensacola Heights community, both of which are in Pensacola proper. Generations born, lives lived, and now gone from them, these homes have retained their glory, the personalities of their owners. Go discover something new (and old).

Enjoy your wanderings!

~Kate