A Remarkable Fiction

Upstate New York.

I don't know what my earliest memory is of my Grandparents' house. There are the pictures, like the one of me bundled up in a tiny puffy winter coat being held by my mother and father, against a backdrop of snow and the house, but I can't recall that time in memory, in the way moments we recall can draw up sensation. Maybe it was when I drowned myself in piles of freshly raked leaves in the backyard and was pulled along in a tarp as my Uncle dragged the leaves around front, or the time I got a splinter in my finger going down into the basement as I ran a hand against the dark wooden panels that lined the staircase. Perhaps it was when my Grandmother would bounce me on one knee singing a Scottish children's tune, or my Uncle Dave rewinding the cassette tape in his old Honda to make sure I heard him singing the "Ohs" as a background vocalist for his brother's 80's band, Johnny Hates Jazz. Saratoga National Park visits or Jumpin' Jacks french fries in the summer. Going to the mall....it goes on and on...

I have so many memories of this place, this land, the family who lived (and continue to live) here. When I pulled off of I-87 (a highway that links Canada to New York, even) to head to the small town where my Grandparents raised their kids - my three uncles, one aunt, and my father - I became increasingly nostalgic. My Grandparents have sinced passed away, but some of my relatives continue to live in the house where I, for many summers, Christmases, and in-between times, also "grew up." 

As I pulled into the driveway, it was the exterior I noticed first. Different colors on the house. No more trees in the front yard. The front door was no longer a burnt red, but solid black. The red bench my Grandmother would sit on in the humid summers was gone. 

Entering the house, my Grandmother wasn't around calling "Hey Doll," as she always did when I came in. My Grandfather wasn't sitting in the fancy living room listening to classical music as he would, seemingly drifting off into imaginary worlds, with his eyes shut, relaxed.

My 24-year-old cousin, Tom, sat at the end of the kitchen table -- a glass table with a wrap-around bench that's replaced the stiff wooden chairs and wooden table that used to sit here -- eating a sandwich. "Hi Cuz" was the new greeting. 

Even as I sit at the table writing this, my Uncle Doug, the eldest sibling is running on a treadmill in the basement while his younger sister, my Aunt Kathy, does floor exercises in the other basement room. They're talking over the treadmill, over the tv that's on. They grew up here. Did they know they would be living here again? Years later? That the house, now my Aunt's, would be so transformed? 

Many rooms are completely different. The backyard, once full of broken brick pathways and some plants, now has a pool.

But there are a few things that haven't changed. The stairs still feel the same as I come down in the morning. The garage still feels mysterious and man-spacey. There are lingering smells from years gone by that haven't faded away.

Bedrooms have changed hands many times over. An uncle's bedroom is now a cousin's. There were parties here. Anniversaries. Receptions. Birthdays. Christmases. My grandparents both passed away in this house. 

In the summers when I was growing up, I would often look out the bedroom windows at night, peering through the tall lanky trees and look skyward. I'd hear a plane overhead, heading to Albany Airport, maybe I would see the blinking lights too, and that creepy feeling would come over me, that low-grade fear that UFOs were traversing the Upstate New York skies. My heart would beat fast and I'd let my imagination scare me.

But my family and this house are both still, despite the changes and the years, the same. Familiar. And that's a comfort. For all of the differences we have, there is still something that makes me feel relaxed here, comfortable here.

Spending the past week in Upstate New York, driving through beautiful country, backroads, dirt roads, small towns, and over highways, all the while being surrounded by the kind of fall foliage that evokes a desolate beauty, the kind of beauty I find myself so drawn to, I was reminded that memory and expectation both are fiction. Remarkable and disorienting fictions.

When I first walked into the only unwavering structure in my 30+ years, my Grandparents' house in Scotia, NY, and saw a completely beautiful and renewed kitchen, all of my tiny child to adolescent memories became puddles at my feet. 

And it took something -- it takes something -- to accept and acknowledge that we are always in a constant state of flux, of becoming, of shedding, and renewing. 

I love the memories I have had in Upstate New York, particularly those I have had as a child. And after my initial shock at the change, I came to accept and respect it. For as the house has changed hands, changed itself internally and externally, so have I.

Like the Crow's Feet I noticed just this week. Never knew I had them.

Change. It's always upon us.