dead ends

I always thought it was neat that both of my sets of grandparents lived at the end of a dead-end road. I’m not sure it means anything really. it’s just a fun fact about my family. we come from dead-end roads. not the same dead-end road, because that would just be weird. the roads are exactly one mile away from one another. this I know now, thanks to Google maps (see below). one family, my mom’s, lived on the right side of a dead-end road. and my dad’s? well, they lived on the left side. when I was little, we spent almost every weekend at one of these houses. and I believed at the time that we were supposed to just get in the car and mom or dad would drive to the end of the road … and that’s where our grandparents lived.

things were easier then. just drive till you can’t drive anymore and there will be people there, happy to see you. people who love you and will spoil you rotten. that’s where dead-end roads led back then.

those roads led to where my sisters and I could run around with little to no care in the world of ever being in the way of anyone or anything. certainly no cars ever came that far down the road, and if they did, they were one of us. they knew where to look for little girls darting in and out of bushes or learning to ride a bike bought that day at a yard sale a bit farther up the road. one such bike was purchased by my dad’s dad, who we called Pappy George. this bike was brown with a yellow banana seat. I popped the front wheel clean off that bike one day when trying to pop a wheelie against a manhole cover that was ever so slightly higher than the pavement surrounding it. I would race as fast as my 10-year-old Olive Oyl legs would take me and hit that damn thing head-on with full force and try to lift the ugly brown bike up in the air with my scrawny arms, pulling with all my might. that one time, all I remember is the front wheel careening ahead in front of me, as if in slow motion, my hands going straight down onto the hot pavement and my knees slamming into the ground as the bike and I skidded along the road. but I didn’t cry. I hurried to stand, looked around, and hid the bike behind a shed and walked, a little shaken but mostly embarrassed, back to the house at the end of the dead-end road to tell my grandfather what had happened. I was sure he’d be pissed at me for breaking my “new” bike. but he wasn’t. he told me to get in the car. we drove back to the shed, together, to pick up the wounded pieces of my yard sale bike and went home to find the toolbox. it’s a day that sticks with me as if it were yesterday. Pappy George propped that bike upside-down on the garage floor and we talked about tools and how to fix it. when it was all back in one piece, I got right back on it and peddled back toward that manhole cover. I wanted revenge. it felt great. almost every time I go back home, I drive down this dead-end road (and over that manhole cover) and turn around in the driveway where I used to play. the owners have closed in the patio where I used to sit with my grandma and grandpa, watching fireflies in the yard as my grandma would tap the ice cubes in her tea with her long, brownish fingernails. one night, staring out toward the streetlight at the end of their street, my grandfather pointed and swore he saw a wolf. yes, a wolf. we sat there, hushed, listening and squinting our eyes to spot the beast that was surely hiding in the woods that hugged the end of the street. we saw nothing. now, every single time I drive down that road, straight toward that patch of woods with its Dead End sign, I swear I’m going to see a wolf looking out at me, smiling. I had it in my mind a few years ago that I was going to find the courage to walk up to the front door of my dad’s old house, knock, and explain to the owners that I should be allowed inside to take a look around because I’m a part of this house’s past. explain to them that I sat at the foot of my grandma’s rocking chair, right against the heater vent, because that’s where she could reach me to scratch my back while I stayed warm. or tell them that I know there are bullet marks in the walls of the bedroom at the top right of the stairs, because that’s where my dad “accidentally” shot his BB gun inside his room. that same room has a wooden bed build right into the wall, just as I would have at my own house while growing up … a nod to how my dad slept in his. there used to be a beautiful cherry bar in the basement … the colorful scene for many of my dad and his dad’s grown-up parties, but also the backdrop for me and my sisters when we’d shimmy up to the bar on the red barstools and order a “grasshopper” or a “pink lady,” both drinks we found as mixes hidden behind the bar. we’d run in the huge backyard that was lined with the tallest pine trees you’d ever seen. we’d twirl around and around while playing hairdresser in my grandmother’s beauty shop, which conveniently allowed us to be girly after hanging out in the adjacent bar. both of these fabulous worlds, hidden in the basement of this tiny house that really did, somehow, have it all. and now it’s someone else’s. it has been for decades now. and even though it pains me to see it, I still drive by almost every time I’m home. it’s tough knowing all of this and not being able to, just one more time, take a walk back in time to see it all again. it’s not that I’m not brave enough. I am. it’s just that I know I couldn’t take the fact that it isn’t the same. the furniture is probably all wrong. I’m fairly certain that the bar and the beauty shop chairs and sinks, along with the strong smell of chemicals my grandma used to give her lady friends their perms, are long gone. the walls probably look nothing like they did and who knows … maybe the BB gun bullet dents have been filled in and painted over. and I’m positive it doesn’t smell like my grandparents’ house anymore. and that alone would kill me.


dead ends

here’s the map that shows the one-mile distance between both of my grandparents’ houses. both on dead-end roads. (click on images to enlarge)


this is my dad’s old house, on the left of the dead-end road. notice the yellow Dead End sign in the woods where the wolf lives.


this is my mom’s old house, the gray one at the bottom right of the photo. the road was extended several years ago, but ended right at her driveway when we were little. note the Dead End sign.

2 thoughts on “dead ends

  1. On my infrequent visits to The Valley, I try to arrange routes to errands and seeing people along the well-trod paths of my youth. If I have my mother or a brother with me, there’s always that nostalgic renewal that comes from reviving the old tales woven into the tapestry that is family. The same thing happens when I attend my high school reunions. On the other hand, when I am by myself there is no mistaking the melancholy when driving around the old neighborhood or haunts and realizing that you used to know who lived in every house but are now occupied by strangers.

    I have never had the urge or desire to go back to take a peek inside the homes where once there was no need to knock. This shouldn’t be a surprise when it comes to my own childhood home. It was the most unsafe place I could be, and I became a competitive athlete and a musician of some accomplishment because these activities got me out of the house. But even with the homes of grandparents and cousins, where we always seemed to have fun, there is little attraction to revisit the scene of those warm memories.

    I’ve been telling myself for a long time that “family” is a movable feast and should never be tied to place. This is particularly so after, now, several generations of increasingly mobile and fragmented families for whom living in the same state, let along the same town, neighborhood or house has long ago been relegated to “long ago.” Funny thing, though. I have work assiduously to provide not only a home but a house that my children — as well as a number of exchange student’s — would look forward to coming back to.

    Now, at the time of life when a couple of empty nesters are contemplating the inevitable move to smaller quarters in a more hospitable climate — and, of course, closer to our children — I am finding it difficult to imagine leaving this cantankerous, untamable old farm house on which so many memories hang. And, coincidentally enough with your post, the other day I found myself wondering whether, five or ten years after finally selling this house, I would want to drive by, stop, knock on the door and tell the owners about my piece of the long history of this house.

    Of course, your pics brought back a flood of memories. And, in the end, that’s always the good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

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