My heart fluttered when my husband turned the corner in our minivan. I was eager to show our young daughters the house in Drexel Hill, Pa., where I grew up. As we drove closer, tears filled my eyes and a lump formed in my throat.
"Oh, my God," I said softly, hand to chest. "Here it is."
The front porch of our two-story stone Colonial was the most restful retreat in the world, especially in the summertime. My sisters, brother, and I would fight for a seat on the squeaky glider. From that spot, we'd watch neighborhood kids ride bikes, play street hockey and basketball, or just wait for friends and relatives. At night, we'd stargaze or huddle with Dad during rainstorms. He taught us to count between the lightning and the thunder to calculate how far the storm was from our house.
Flanked by dogwood trees but with nothing to obscure our view, our porch was the perfect spot to witness neighborhood happenings.
"Mr. Cavalli is sealing his driveway again," I'd say, taking a break from reading. Every July, tall and slim Mr. Cavalli stood across the street with several 5-gallon containers of tar, methodically moving a long squeegee from the back of his driveway to the front. All of our neighbors kept their houses and gardens in tiptop shape. You never saw clutter on anyone's property.
My favorite time on the porch was between 4 and 4:30, waiting for Dad to come home from work. On summer days, I'd leap off the glider, open the front door, and yell, "Mom, Dad's home!" She'd rush out, tugging her shirt down, smile, and wave at the handsome guys in Dad's car pool.
In my teens, I’d linger on the porch, anticipating a good night kiss at the end of a date. But there was never more than a peck, because between the porch light and the street light opposite our house, the place was lit up like Fenway Park. On several Sunday mornings Dad said: “You forgot to turn off the porch light last night. What, do you think I have stock in the electric company?”
At 24 I moved out, yet with each visit home my heartbeat quickened when approaching the front door. Crossing the threshold, I was instantly comforted by the familiar sights and smells of home: the eagle door knocker, the umbrella stand and antique wooden sconce in the hallway, and the aromas from my mother's Italian cooking wafting from the kitchen, beckoning me into the heart of the home.
The house number (804) in black script that Mom bought long ago remained nailed to the horizontal trim of the porch. Yes, this was the house, but someone might as well have punched me in the gut. The current owners had let the place go, and I barely recognized it. The driveway looked like a used-car lot, with rusty, dented vehicles parked too tightly on the small stretch of concrete. Stacks of firewood and broken furniture on the porch were visible behind the overgrown bushes that Dad had proudly trimmed long ago. Mom's flower boxes had vanished. The paint was peeling. My family home had become the eyesore on the block, and I regretted showing it to my daughters.
I wiped away the tears, turned to my husband, and said, “Keep driving.”
Joyce Poggi Hager, a writer living north of Boston, is working on a memoir and blogs at Musing Off the Mat, www.joycepoggihager.com. Send comments and your 550-word essay to Address@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won't pursue.