It had been twenty years since my family had moved away, but I was in town again. I traveled a lot now, working for a sales/marketing firm. My meetings were over, so before flying back I decided to visit the house of my childhood.
I surprised myself with how well I remembered the streets. I’d bought a map, just in case, but often a familiar landmark would transport me back to the third grade, when I used to watch the same scenery from the back seat of the family car.
Yes, there it was ‒ I turned onto a residential street with a dead-end sign. The familiar ranch house was near the end. Something was missing, though. Except for a short stump, the front yard was sadly empty. The weeping willow tree I used to climb was gone.
There was a sign showing that the house was for sale. As I parked the rental car on the street, conjuring up old phantoms, a car pulled into the driveway. The driver put a “SOLD” sign above the realtor’s and headed for the door. Impulsively, I jumped out and ran after him.
“Excuse me, I used to live in this house. Are you the real estate agent?”
“Yes,” he said, turning. “I’m afraid you’re too late ‒ we just closed on the deal…”
“That’s all right ‒ I just happened to be in town, and was wondering if you could show me around a bit.”
“Sure,” he nodded, opening the door.
The carpet was new, and the walls had a new coat of paint, too. The slightest noise echoed since there was hardly any furniture. “The last owners already moved to Florida,” the agent explained. “It took us a few months to find a buyer.”
I walked through the house feeling like a stranger. Actually, it was the house that had turned into a foreign place. Even my old room seemed different, although it hadn’t been changed much. It simply smelled different.
Walking out the door, something triggered my memory. “Wait,” I said, “can I check out the bathroom before we go?”
“You need to use it?”
“No, I think there might be something… just a sec.”
The laundry chute was still inside the cabinet under the sink. I got down on my knees and reached behind it, my tongue sticking out in concentration. Finally, I retrieved a small wooden chest.
I opened it to show him my childhood treasures ‒ two blue-striped marbles, a yo-yo with a tangled string, a Matchbox Corvette that had lost most of its red paint, and a plastic soldier that had made the ultimate sacrifice for my imaginary country. I picked him out, fondly.
“I put him to rest here, but forgot to pack him when we moved.”
The agent smiled. “He must be pretty special.”
I nodded and carefully carried the box outside. I had the most important piece of the house now.