Dear Gail,

You probably don’t remember me, but I’m the kid who grew up next door to your mother back in the old neighborhood in Concord. Your mom used to baby-sit me, and in a way, over the years, she became the grandmother I never had. But I think you were already long married by that time.

Anyway, I dreamed about the neighborhood last night, as I still do now and then, even though the whole place is of course long destroyed. But there I was back home again, and in that aimless way that dreams develop, I thought I’d stop in next door and say hi to your mom.

I crunched my way down our long gravel driveway out to the sidewalk, past the hedge, then onto the narrow concrete walk between the twin lawns and up the steps to her creaky old front porch. She wasn’t sitting in her big green rocking chair – the one with the wicker seat – so I knocked on the screen door.

The funny thing is, every detail on that porch was there as plain as day: I could feel the three slanting brass bars of the screen door grille through the screen, and the gray-painted porch floor, with the joints between the planks ridged up a little. Beside her own rocking chair was the smaller wooden rocker where I used to sit and listen to her stories about the old days. There was the same old porch light with its frosted globe in the middle of the beadboard ceiling, strung with cobwebs and dead gnats, and of course your mom’s black ashtray full of stubbed-out Salems atop the wide banister, the filter ends stained with bright fuschia lipstick.

As usual, I couldn’t really see into the dark front room through that big wooden screen door – just a glimmer of gold from the clock on the back wall.

Your mom came to the door, and in the dream I greeted her as Pauline, which of course I never did as a child; she was always “Mrs. Meese.” She was happy to see me, and we talked a little bit about this and that, and I told her that we all missed her. Still, I had the feeling that she needed to get back to whatever it was she’d been doing.

As I was turning to leave she said, “Love ya,” in that offhand Oklahoma way of hers. “We love you, too,” I said. I don’t know why I said “we”; I suppose I was speaking for my family, although as good stolid Germans we never said, “I love you” to anybody.

We went out on the porch again, and I gave her a hug. Something welled up in me, and over her shoulder, I began telling her how I missed the neighborhood, how everything had changed, how when I drove through town I didn’t even recognize what road I was on anymore. And I felt tears welling up in my eyes. That’s when I began to wake up – not all of a sudden, but little by little, the familiar surroundings seeming to slip further and further away without my having budged from that spot. I remember staying very still for a while after I woke up, afraid I’d break the spell of having just stood there with your mom, on that comfortable old porch, in that long-vanished old neighborhood.

Anyway, I had a nice visit, and I guess I just wanted to tell you about it.

I know that we can never really go home again, but it seems I can’t help but try it now and then, despite myself.

***

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