A man reminisces in front of his boyhood home on Christmas Eve
|James tugged his collar higher to keep the whirling snow off the back of his neck. His ice-encrusted eyelashes glistened under the street lights as he trudged along the middle of the road, which was the only part clear enough to walk. He shuffled through a mix of slush and fresh snow, past rows of parked cars hidden under mounds of winter. Past skeletons of cherries and dogwoods and lindens that lined the sidewalks. Past proud brick and stone townhouses that had seen well over a century of blizzards.
Each townhouse looked pretty much like all the others except for slight variations in door colors and shrubbery (or lack thereof). But one building was special to James. It didn't look all that different on the outside, but James had known that place as home for his first nineteen years. He was now in his thirty-second year, and it was Christmas Eve. Many homes sparkled with prisms of color in their windows, or on their front doors, or on their wrought iron railings. James hadn't been on this street for quite some time, and a lifetime of memories rolled through his head. He smiled as he passed the front gate where he'd gotten his first kiss, and he offered a nod of recognition to the places in which his two best friends had lived.
He stopped in front of his boyhood home, and spotted the familiar candles in the windows. His parents had inherited the set from the previous owners of the home, who told them that it was a custom they'd learned when they'd bought the place. James' brother had accidentally broken one of the candles, and his parents weren't able to find an exact match. Seeing that odd candle again brought a tear to James' eye, because his family was pretty much non-existent now. His father had passed away a few months earlier, his mother was confined to a rest home with Alzheimer's Disease, and he hadn't seen his brother in years.
James remembered many hours of sitting on the stone steps of that house playing silly games with his friends, like conjuring up insulting names for passersby, or competing to create the funniest limerick. And when silly games grew boring, they'd often hit the sidewalk to play catch. The nearby town common, with its broad expanse of open grass, was an ideal spot for baseball or football. But for a quick game of catch, the sidewalk in front of his house worked just fine.
James also recalled imagining how interesting it would be if all the previous families who'd lived there could come back from their current homes or their graves, and meet each other for a glorious holiday meal. Early residents would no doubt marvel at the new-fangled electrical appliances, or perhaps turn up their noses at offensive changes to the décor. Later occupants might praise earlier owners for how well they'd maintained the place. And all could trade stories about their lives among those walls. The parties, the births, the weddings, the deaths. Each room would have a wealth of tales to tell.
Continuing his trek along the street, James found himself humming one of the carols he and his family used to sing as they walked door to door with a few friends. Occasionally his humming turned to lyrics, but he had to pause a few times to dig up forgotten words. And if the words failed to materialize, he just returned to humming.
Reaching the end of the street, he leaned into a frosty blast and turned the corner. He was relieved to see that business owners along the way had done their best to keep the sidewalks clear. That would make his journey less daunting, because it was an eight-block walk to the homeless shelter. Tonight would be much too miserable to sleep on a heating grate, or curled up against a dumpster in an alley. Tonight he would treat himself to a hot meal and a cot. And he would dream of those better times.