[This essay follows "More Than a Shell," posted August 26]
When we moved in, the house had been vacant for over a year, a year of stillness but for the scrabble of mice and the settling of old floors. Unaccustomed churnings stirred the languid air when our kids raced through rooms and clattered up the stairway.
For close to two decades, Dave and I had lived in the dormitory of a private school in Greenwich. Communal meals, the thumpings of the five Moore boys playing basketball in the apartment overhead, and the constant on-call activity of dorm life had been our routine. Now night’s darkness was unbroken but for the call of owl and coyote. As much as I love Nature’s wildness, those eerie voices could turn a peaceful walk with our malamute, Kody, into a frenzied break for the house. “C’mon, Sweetie, c’mon,” I’d urge, tugging her leash, as cartoon images of yellow eyes and dripping fangs skulked unbidden into my mind.
Casey and Tucker, ages seven and ten, had loved the house during preliminary tours, but they hadn’t fully grasped that buying it meant leaving our home at the school. They were accustomed to having a gym and playground in the backyard, and friends next door, upstairs, and down the hall.
Dave and I tried to transfer as much familiarity to their new rooms as possible. I traced the markings on Tucker’s door in Greenwich that gauged his growth: 9/16/81 - 16 months - 32 inches, through 7/11/90 - 10 years old – 4 feet 11 inches. Tucker copied those milestones on the door to his room. (The most recent addition reads, “12/20/ 2001 - 21 years - 6 feet 2 inches.)
I had gingerly peeled Tuck’s artwork and Greenpeace and World Wildlife decals off the old woodwork to re-create the same effect on his new bedroom door. “I liked my old room better,” he scowled at the unveiling. I was disappointed by his reaction, but we all felt homesick.
Greenwich had been busy and suburban. The school was academically challenging and highly competitive. The grocery store and main shopping area were nearby. The hospital where my kids were born was one minute away - all so convenient, so fast.
There were no commercial centers in our new town. The grocery store was a ten-minute trek and it was years before we located the hospital. But, that first summer, we discovered three working farms within four minutes of the house and an orchard with blueberries, peaches and apples just down the road. We picked berries, rode bikes, and explored the surrounding woods, marveling that we lived in the New England of Currier and Ives.
“No Trespassing” signs marked the borders between our property and that of the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company, but we risked outlaw status in meandering along the stream and up the ridge. As I child, I would have loved these forays, but my kids whined about ticks and cultivated my worries about hunters as excuses to stay indoors. They preferred the entertainment of TV and computers, and groused when I shooed them outside.
Autumn brought apple-picking at the orchard off Route 58, and with school’s opening - friends. Once yellow buses rolled and kids came over for play dates, Casey and Tucker began to feel at home. It was harder for Dave and me: we had no welcoming classroom of built-in pals, and it had been years since we’d felt like the new kids in town. Finding new doctors, a new mechanic and new friends was hard.
At the first parent open house at the elementary school, Dave and I wedged ourselves expectantly into the tiny children’s seats in Mrs. Ledbetter’s second grade classroom and checked out the other parents. We rifled through Casey’s desk, her folders and workbooks. We scanned bulletin boards looking for her papers and artwork. What we found was a sign that all would be well: a pen and ink drawing, prominently displayed, of a child walking down a country road. Beneath the picture, were written the words “Childhood should be a journey, not a race.”
We were home.