The house was built with four floors on a steep hill and was surrounded on three sides by terraced gardens. The front looked out on a gritty Philadelphia street of the working middle class. Monsters lived in our coal cellar and fairies lived in the woods.
Across the street, there was a run down old mansion that was nearly abandoned except for two hippies living in a couple of rooms with their kids and pets. The acres of land that belonged to the house had turned wild but in the spring some vestiges of what used to be would push their way through the sumac and the weeds and it was easy to imagine the former grandeur of the property that was now our wild playground.
In the spring we spent hours climbing the flowering fruit trees and playing hide-n-seek. I would collect buckets of sweet-smelling flowers and try to make perfume out of them, hoping that maybe this time it wouldn’t turn into a rotten mess again. I loved that first day of spring, when the wind would shift and become a little warmer and friendlier after the long winter.
In the summer, we would spend hours in my friend Brigid’s pool trying to stay cool. The fireflies came out at night and danced all around our houses and the end of the day always came too soon no matter how much we tried to ignore the deepening dusk. Tomorrow never came fast enough.
In the fall and winter, we spent more time indoors inventing games and believing we were anything we wanted to be. Veterinarians (poor Worthless and Eddie), magicians, radio DJ’s, princesses, ballerinas, chefs, anything we could think of. When we played outside we built ice palaces and luge tracks. Anything we could all pile onto and slide down the hills faster and faster was fair game to be “borrowed”. We lived with the conviction that anything was possible; all we had to do was dream of it.
My parents made that house a home, even if it wasn’t their dream house. My father made a vegetable garden and a sandbox for us and planted bushes and flowers all around the yard. My parents set up a little wading pool to help combat the scorching heat of summer. Mom would make lunch in the summer and the three of us girls would sit around the table, tan and relaxed together and my dad looked proudly at the women in his life. I think he always knew to savor those moments.
As one of my father’s home improvement projects, he built a new fence in the back yard. The old one was rotting away and since the back of the property dropped off to a long steep hill, the fence served a purpose beyond keeping others out. This would be the first I recall of many of his home improvement projects in several houses over the years. As he was pouring the concrete for the fence posts, he called my sister and me down to where he was working.
In the wet concrete, two little girls made their handprints and then decorated it with plastic jewelry beads that were, in our minds, precious stones of sapphire, ruby and diamond. It was our monument to that place and time, our jeweled concrete.
It has been many years since we left that place, my definition of home. I have moved many times since but I think home is not just a place, but the intersection of a time, a place and people that you love. Once the world moves on it is hard to recapture what used to be but I have found that moment in time, where I am in the place and with people where I am home again.