In 1972, my family’s grand house on the south shore of Long Island was sold quickly after my father’s death. My mother quickly abandoned and withdrew herself from this part of her life, and moved her permanent residence to Manhattan. In fact, after the late Fall of 1972, I never returned to that part of Long Island until the summer of 1988 when along came Leslie.
One early summers weekend morning, when the summer sun was blissful and luxurious, I felt the urge to go to the beach. We ended up at a beach not far from where I had grown up as a boy, and at the end of a rather luxurious day of sun; I suddenly had the notion to show Leslie (my soon to be wife) the place I had grown up. I hadn’t been back to the house in years and I wondered what feelings lied in store for me. My life there with my parents, all the help that had nurtured and protected me, our dogs, etc., everything was simply now a memory. As we drove through the gates to the house, Leslie emphatically felt that this was very wrong. It all felt very private and very intimidating. I, on the other hand, felt perfectly comfortable and felt I was going home. Although we had not been invited, nor did we know the present owners, I felt I belonged there.
When we approached the front door, I heard voices in the backyard and both Leslie and I walked quickly around and introduced ourselves as someone who had grown up in the house. It happened to be the owners and they were very gracious and asked me my name. When I mentioned it, they told me of an old Army trunk of my father’s that they had found deeply buried in the eves of the attic. They told me the trunk was filled with my father’s love letters to my mother, some letters from my sister to her boyfriend, and some Army and personal paraphernalia of my father’s. They had been unable to discard this and had been holding onto this trunk for years in the hope that someday one of us would return, and here on this summer’s day, I had.
I don’t remember who was more excited. Leslie was overcome with anticipation and the owners were thrilled that we had finally arrived. They quickly showed us the house, which was vastly different from when my family lived there, and not to my taste. Upon seeing the house again, and although it felt so different than it did when I was a little boy, I could still feel the faint remnants of my father’s presence in small places throughout the house. We removed the trunk placed it in our car and with enormous thanks to the new residence of my former life, and left quickly for New York.
When we returned to New York, we opened the trunk, and as described it was full of pictures and letters, army insignias, etc. It was a testament to my father’s early life. The contents brimmed with mystery, excitement, and a love for my mother that I had not felt in years. But perhaps most importantly, upon the opening of this small trunk, a musty smell of a long forgotten world emanated. I could almost feel my father’s presence, but not as the man I knew, but rather the young man that existed before I was born.
The house we had come to see was a fulfillment of one of my father’s dreams. He always loved this house. He made it majestic and beautiful. All the work on the house and the grounds, all the labor, the painting, the continual renewal while we lived there was worth it. It had made an indelible impression on me. I have become my father’s son.
I understand that some years later the house burnt completely to the ground. What once was is completely gone. But what is not gone is my parent’s ways. I have embraced their soul and rebuilt a house that bares homage to my present and to their past. I now live the life I want to live, but without question the foundations of my home today are rooted in that house on the south shore of Long Island.