My sister took this picture recently — it’s the house we lived in the year I learned to read.
I remember a lot of things about this house — it’s just that none of them are in this picture. In 1967, it was a green place — there was a gnarled mulberry along the side and climbing roses and a weeping willow and a grassy lawn. There was a lot of shade. There was no fence. It didn’t look like a place where poor people live. The front porch wasn’t messy and it was a lot bigger.
We lived there for just a few years, maybe only one. Maryland summers were hot and muggy. You could walk down the road and buy an ice cream for almost nothing and eat it on the way home. And then, you’d walk inside and it would be shady, clean and cool.
Around my birthday that year, I stood at a table turning the pages of one of my father’s books, a big thick book, and noticing that the page numbers went from six to seven or seven to eight and thinking, I’m a year older; getting older is like turning a page in a book. This was the place where I read to my mother, sitting on a chair in the kitchen while she made fried chicken, See Jane run. Run, Jane, run. It was the place I read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Had I been asked before seeing this picture, I could not have described the house itself. But it turns out I know this house well. It is the house I point to in every small town we drive through: the little white house with the peaked roof that promises shade and silence for reading and writing. It is the house I stopped in front of in Quincy a few days ago and coveted. It is the house I have always said I will live in when I get old, the house where I’ll read books on the porch in the summer evenings, where I’ll write novels in a cool room with a slanted ceiling. It is the house of my dreams. It’s just that I never knew I had lived in it already.