It was a rundown cape, on a rather large piece of property choked by over a dozen trees. I still remember that first day; my father unlocking the front door and being surprised to find the stray dog, the previous tenants had left behind, still alive.
Then, the pipes froze, my father forced open the cellar door, the entire front wall caved in and I don't know who cried more - me, my brother or my parents.
Still, my twin brother and I were 12-years-old, sharing the same bedroom and my parents couldn't live with my grandmother's abusive husband...one...minute...longer.
The house had "good bones" and my parents spent the next 30 years "fixing her up," slowly building on their dream, spending every spare weekend busting up plaster walls and taping sheet rock, as they desperately tried to bring life and happiness back into our lives.
My brother and I helped...and liked it, too...because, being able to swing a hammer and breaking things, on purpose, is fun.
It wasn't the biggest, or the best house in Carteret (there weren't many of those, either, trust me) but, it was home, for the next 14 years, until I finally said goodbye on my wedding day.
Still, we visited often and (once, their grandchildren started coming along) our kids looked forward to eating chicken soup on Sundays at Mama's and Papa's house.
A year before my mother became ill, when the real estate market was still in its prime, I convinced my parents to sell the house (having found them a nice little niche in a much nicer community) and they made out very well for themselves (meaning, they actually had enough money to open up a savings account) but, they were sad to leave "all those memories" behind.
So were my kids.
"We'll make new ones!"
Today, my kids still love to visit and often times ask to sleep over with Mama and Papa at their new house (truly, the house was flipped, and totally rebuilt by, you know, someone else) and we don't really talk about "the old" house much, anymore.
"Look, there's Carteret, can we visit the old house?"
Don't judge us by what you see from the airports, or the exits on the Turnpike (so, you from Joisey?) but, the kids and I were on our way home from the Liberty Science Center (got to visit with some of my friends at SV Moms, too) when my oldest daughter (she's 15) suggested I take a quick detour to "the old house."
"I guess so."
Even though, I still don't understand why my parents insist on visiting "the old house" and then call to tell me just how bad it really looks.
"What the...oh my gosh, I totally missed the street!"
Nope, didn't even see it. My parents mentioned something about "all the building" and "new fancy town homes" their putting up and I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much my hometown had changed.
So, I pulled a u-wee (Jersey talk for U-turn) and wasn't very surprised to find very little had changed on Union Street.
"Look, there it....oh, my...guh..."
Aaaand, for the first time (all day) the minivan grew silent.
"Why is Thing One crying?"
Bad idea, indeed.
"I learned how to swim in that pool!"
The gazebo, the gardens, the green house, the pool, everything was gone and whatever did manage to survive, desperately needed to be put out of its misery.
"Yeah, but the old house still looks the same."
I nodded my head and smiled at Thing Two (she's 13) for coming to my rescue, again.
"It's got good bones."
Okay, so maybe I can't go home (Bon Jovi, he's from Jersey) and my kids aren't living in the biggest, most bestest house in the neighborhood (got a couple McMansions just around the corner) but, maybe...just maybe...all that doesn't matter, anyway.
"We still have our memories, right Momma?"
Yes, and we spent the rest of the drive home...remembering.