Mama cried for a week when she moved away from the Gill Street house. She’d been happy there. Her chickens and turkeys strutted about in their pens in the back yard, clucking and scratching for juicy worms in those pens that Daddy had built for them in his spare time. The huge pecan trees not only provided nuts for our pies, cakes, and cookies; they supplied us with Christmas money. Every fall found us out in the yard on our knees gathering pecans into bright-colored plastic buckets. We gathered in all weather, except heavy rain. The old trees provided great bounty. Their nuts covered the ground and we had to take care not to step on them. When we filled several Croker sacks, Daddy hauled them down to market on Saturday mornings and brought the money to Mama. She hoarded every penny to buy presents with, carefully hiding her money in her jewelry box with the false bottom. She didn’t care much about the jewelry—most of it costume anyway; her priorities differed from most women’s.
Mama grew up on a farm, and Christmas presents were sparse at best when divided among 11 children. Presents usually consisted of the proverbial hard candy and maybe an orange for each child. Mama promised herself that if she ever had children, she’d provide good Christmases for them. She kept that promise, no matter what and worked all year to prepare for her favorite holiday. The holidays on Gill Street were the best of all. In addition to the pecans, she babysat, took in laundry, and made quilts to sell to earn money. The factory next door to us provided many mothers needing a babysitter; Mama was right there and available.
We were happy there, the average American family living in Small Town, USA. Daddy worked across the street at Cook and Company, which later became Soundlock. He walked home every day for lunch, which Mama had on the table waiting for him. Always peas, corn, or other summer vegetables from the freezer waited on the table along with some kind of meat. The two of them earned enough money to take care of us, but we certainly didn’t live in the lap of luxury. My parents were quite frugal with their earnings. When Mama found out that she’d have to move away from the place she loved most in the world, it broke her heart. I was away at college and didn’t see her on a daily basis, but I heard about it constantly.
My childhood home is now a parking lot. The places where I rode my bike and played hop scotch on the sidewalks have long since been covered over with concrete. On occasion when I’m in Hazlehurst, I ride by there and look, but the looking makes me a bit sad. I don’t linger.
When the family left Gill Street, they moved to Jarmon Street or Highway 341. Golden Isles Parkway wasn’t golden back then. It wasn’t, period. It didn’t exist. Only a couple of weeks after they moved, Mama saw her house coming down the highway on a huge truck. The tears came again in torrents. The fact that she’d moved to a bigger, better house didn’t soothe her at all.
People always called Mama’s second home the old Jarmon House, even though the Nichols family lived there for forty-odd years. It mattered not one whit. Highway 341 used to be a lovely two-lane street lined with ancient oaks, but Progress came along and ripped those oaks in front of Mama and Daddy’s house right out of the ground. I never really considered it home because I was grown and gone before they moved to it, but I liked it. The house had four huge bedrooms, a formal living room, a formal dining room, a breakfast room, kitchen and two baths, but it was never home to me or Mama. She lived there the rest of her life and came to accept it, but it wasn’t home. Never was.
Now it’s a car lot. Riding by the car lot doesn’t bring lumps to my throat the way seeing that parking lot does. I feel almost homeless. Last week my sister brought me a coffee mug that says, “Home is where my dogs live,” and I had an epiphany. Home is wherever my family is, including my dogs. Home is with the people and pets that love me, with the ones that I love more than life itself. Only memories live in my childhood home.