Ellen Tucker Dowling: Everything Changes

  • Tuesday, February 20, 2024
  • Ellen Tucker Dowling

The white bungalow where I grew up sits at the foot of Lookout Mountain and for the past seven years or so, it’s been super easy to swing by from time to time, on purpose or along the way. After my parents sold our home many years ago, it went into slow but steady decline, so much so that for the final decades of her life, my mother couldn’t bear driving by. Gone were the tidy boxwood hedges my dad trimmed on Saturdays; two stately front yard trees and a detached garage vanished right along with them. White shingles turned into butterscotch vinyl siding, and the front yard became a crazy knickknack circus.

However, dismay about bungalow blight aside, every single time I passed by, I had but one thought:

I sure would like to go inside for a little look-around.

Behold, a couple of years ago, the old homestead appeared for sale (“as is”) on Zillow, and was quickly snapped up by a flipper. My ship finally came in this past fall with a Sunday afternoon Open House. I was an elated Alice heading through the looking glass, and I sure hoped the realtor on the other side was nice.

I was 12 years old the last time I walked up the front sidewalk, so that alone was a big deal, and crossing the threshold landed me where I never thought I’d ever get to go again. There they were, the fireplace with my favorite casement windows on either side, along with the gracious curved dining room archway. And the curious Cold Bathroom (during our tenure it had no heat and I never thought to ask why) had become quite fancy and was cold no more.

The living room where my reticent father played resounding classical music from WSMC every night looked very, very 2023, but I could almost feel the symphony again. Farther back in the house was the Back Bedroom where the rest of us watched television in the evening and the Wizard of Oz on one special Sunday night every year. I stood in its far corner, taking in the whole panorama and missing the elements formerly occupying that space: my mother, our old Green Sofa, and the huge black and white "portable" TV.

The hallway medicine closet was a surprise simply by still being there and looking exactly the same. I opened the door to find familiar shelves minus the old Vicks, Paragoric, Mercurochrome, Black Salve, and St. Joseph Baby Aspirin, remembering the time when that cabinet served up slightly dangerous remedies for most any malady known to man.

Things got interesting down in the basement where my memories all involve darkness, dirt, and a massive silver coal furnace with a myriad of shiny arms reaching out in all directions.

Gray LVP flooring anchored several cavern-ish bedrooms that had been created to make a bigger bungalow. The old coal bin with its little window that swung open each fall for the Bryan Coal Company to send a ton down the chute was one of them (with lone small window, same spot). And a bathroom now occupies the pride of place location where once upon a time stood the flaming fire and brimstone furnace.

Meanwhile upstairs, the addition of the basement sleeping quarters had cost the second of our two bedrooms its life, and it is now styled as an oddly large closet with washer and dryer connections. However, the expansive windows I loved still hold court in the same place from the olden days.

I circled back around to make sure all sacred landmarks had been covered, and thanked the congenial agent while I requested a commemorative picture in front of the fireplace. As I walked back down the sidewalk, I was so thankful for my perpetual wish having been granted at last. I also wondered what my parents would've made of the new-fangled amenities they surely would believe were straight from The Jetsons.

~~~~~

Walking through our old home one more time was a big gift sent down from above. One thing I didn't understand before I got there was the quiet pleasure found being back in a place where my parents once dwelled during the prime of their lives. As the years since they left this earth move on, Margaret and Emery continue to fade further into the past, so it was sweet having a miniature visit with the days of yore.

Just like our old medicine cabinet offered up a cure for whatever ailed you, that Sunday afternoon settled my weird, enduring childhood home fascination. The house now sits squarely in 2024 with amenities and upgrades aplenty compared to what it once had (heat in the Cold Bathroom is a nice touch), and I got to see them all.

My thoughts since the trip down Memory Lane have been about two of the most fundamental truths served up in life:

1. Not everyone shares my home design sensibilities.
2. For better or worse, whether I like it or not, everything changes.

Our old house is such a fine reminder that time marches onwards, and very little stays the same. Homes that I have loved and left along the way find new owners who move in and manifest their own ideas for gracious living. Similarly, life evolves across time, and we can look back and remember the way things once were while considering how things work out. All in all, I reminisce with awe and appreciation for the people, communities, jobs, circumstances, and - yes - homes where I have been. Every peak and every valley along the way held special gifts, even the ones that took a long time to understand.

We all move forward in paths brimming with the good, the grand, and the regrettable, and I'd like to somehow embrace it all with grace and dignity. With the many great things God has given my children and me, it's the very least I can do.

* * *

etdowling @bellsouth.net


Ellen Tucker Dowling
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