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Home & Garden

You Can Go Home Again

Memories of a childhood home on a lake inspire a return visit.
illustration by Jessica Gordon

Thomas Wolfe told us that we can’t go home again. Even so, I’m obsessed with the house from my childhood. I do a drive-by whenever I go to Fort Worth—whether I’m chauffeuring kids on a reluctant museum tour or visiting a friend from school. (We used to “heat the bricks,” which was cruising up and down the brick-paved Camp Bowie Boulevard.) Whatever the task, I always include a side trip down Camp Bowie on to Clayton Road and wind through Ridglea Hills to Brants Lane and Luther Lake.

Our house was not that great—certainly not by D Home standards. It was a cracker-box two-story with brown trim. My parents, apparently inspired by a trip to New Orleans, added some decorative ironwork to the front windows. It’s still there, and it looks more low-income housing than Louisiana French Quarter. But our lawn sloped down to a clean spring-fed lake that was big enough for a small sailboat and small enough for my two sisters and I to swim across in the summer.

I went back to Fort Worth not long ago for a funeral. When it was over, I did my regular drive-by, and I saw some kids playing in the driveway. For whatever reason, I was inspired to stop. The kids immediately summoned their dad—as any child should when a stranger, no matter how charming, approaches. When I introduced myself, he said, “Oh, you must be one of the Bandeen girls. My parents bought the house from your folks in 1972.” And all these years later, he was raising three little girls in the house on the lake. Just like my dad.

I went in expecting massive changes, but only the paint color was all that different. My parents’ old room had also changed for the better. It’s light and bright now, unlike when we were little and my mom was in bed and the room smelled of medicine. I told the homeowner some stories on the tour. We talked about the time my father got so tired of my clothes on the floor that he came in and thumbtacked them all to the ceiling and put all the shoes in the bed. And I told him about the time I was grounded, and my cousin and I made a rope out of bras and panties and hung it from the window—just to embarrass my dad.

I wanted to share secrets with the three little girls—like how easy it is to sneak out the back stairway. Or when it’s freezing, if you water down the steep drive, there’s no way anyone can take you to school.

A few weeks later—at my new house on a different lake—a man knocked on my door. “I’m so sorry to bother you,” he said. “My parents built this house, and I grew up here. My 88-year-old mother is in the car and on a walker, but could we possibly come in?” The coincidence took my breath away. Their visit and the memories they shared—planting those now massive crape myrtles back in the 1970s and my large living room being frequented by musicians who had concerts there—made me so happy. In the end, it turns out, you can go home again. But only for a visit.