Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Dear Pauline,

It’s me, Arrol, the kid who grew up next door to you back in the old neighborhood in Concord.  You used to babysit me, and in a way, over the years, you became the grandmother I never had.  

Anyway, I dreamed about the neighborhood last night, as I still do now and then, even though the whole place is of course long destroyed.  But there I was back home again, and in that aimless way that dreams develop, I thought I’d stop in next door and say hi to you.

I crunched my way down our long gravel driveway out to the sidewalk, past the hedge, then onto the narrow concrete walk between the twin green lawns and up the steps to your creaky old front porch. You weren’t sitting in your big green rocking chair--the one with the wicker seat--so I knocked on your screen door. 

The funny thing is, every detail on that porch was there as plain as day:  I  could feel the three slanting brass bars of the screen door grille through the screen, and the gray-painted porch floor, with the joints between the planks ridged up a little. Next to your rocking chair was the smaller wooden rocker where I used to sit and listen to your stories about the old days. There was the same old porch light with its frosted globe in the middle of the beadboard ceiling, strung with cobwebs and dead gnats, and of course your black ashtray full of stubbed-out Salems on top of the wide banister, the filter ends stained with bright fuschia lipstick.

As usual, I couldn’t really see into the dark front room through that big wooden screen door--just a glimmer of gold from the starburst-shaped clock on the back wall.  You came to the door, and in the dream I called you Pauline, which of course I never did as a child: You were always “Mrs. Meese”. You were glad to see me, and we talked a little bit about this and that, and I told you that we all missed you. Still, I had the feeling that you needed to get back to whatever it was you’d been doing.  

As I was turning to leave, you said “Love ya,” in that offhand Oklahoma way of yours.  “We love you too,” I said.  I don’t know why I said “We”; I suppose I was speaking for my family, although as good stolid Germans we never even said “I love you” to each other, let alone to the neighbors.  

We went out on the porch again, and I gave you a hug.  Something welled up in me, and over your shoulder, I began telling you how I missed the neighborhood, how everything had changed, how when I drove through town I didn’t even recognize what road I was on anymore.  And I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  That’s when I began to wake up--not all of a sudden, but little by little, the familiar surroundings seeming to slip further and further away without my having budged from that spot.  I remember staying very still for a while after I awoke, afraid I’d break the spell of having just stood there with you, Mrs. Meese--Pauline--on that comfortable old porch, in that long-vanished old neighborhood.

Anyway, I had a nice visit, and I guess I just wanted to tell you about it.  I know that we can never really go home again, but it seems I can’t help but try it now and then, in spite of myself. 

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