Then and Now: Scenes from a Childhood Home

A daughter imagines a film montage depicting her parents’ solid 63-year marriage

By Dana Klosner-Wehner January 4, 2019

I went to lunch with my parents last week. I sat in the back seat, where I was 12  all over again, while my mother drove home from the restaurant and my dad “corrected her mistakes.” He really is the worst backseat driver. Until Dad’s macular degeneration set in, he was always in the driver’s seat. Whether he should have been or not. As they have for more than 50 years, Mom pulled into their Long Island driveway, stopped to let me out, then continued into the garage.

But I’m not 12; I’m 56 and a lifetime has passed. I took a good look into the garage. Next to the car, walkers and canes stood where bicycles used to be. I thought how this house— the one I grew up in with my two sisters, the one where my sisters and I took our kids for a little loving and babysitting from Grandma, and now where we go with our grown children to help Grandma and Grandpa do laundry, get things off the top shelf or bend down and get things out of cabinets — could be a two-minute montage of my parents’ lives. Like the ones you see in romantic comedies where the couple falls in love. Walking in the rain, playing games at a carnival, trying on funny hats in a department store, and finally the long-awaited kiss. I’m still working on the soundtrack.

Snapshots of a Home Then and Now

As usual, I walked in through the garage door. The two sets of staircases faced me. One goes down to the basement, my father’s lair, where he proudly keeps his computer for his photography and Photoshop work, and his exercise equipment.

In my imaginary montage, the camera focuses in on the stationery bike. Wavy dissolve to: Dad when he was in his mid-60’s biking away with a sweatband around his head, another time to me in the living room with a baby on my lap while my father walks laps around the living room in his bathrobe to cool down after his morning workout. Another time dissolve to elementary school-age kids (grandkids) playing on the bike. Dissolve back to present day: for Dad, at nearly 91, just getting out of bed is exercise enough.

The other steps go up to the kitchen, living room and dining room level. It’s hard to climb those stairs now because a motorized chair my parents need to make the trek takes up most of the stairway.

Wavy dissolve to: My teenage older sister and I having a fight about whether the canned dog food in the fridge had gone bad and whether we should feed it to the dog. We’re furious, both refusing to give in.  As she crouches to put the food in the bowl, I take it out and throw it at her. And, guess what, she throws it back. It goes on like this for a couple of minutes, the dog looking on, very hungry and confused. Finally, we stop, look at each other, look at the dog, look at the dog food everywhere and burst out laughing.

Rooms Are Adapted Over the Years

And now I look at the upper level of this split-level home that looks exactly like all the others on the block. The top level holds three bedrooms. The little room was mine because I was the baby. My two older sisters shared the room next door, until the eldest reached the age where she demanded her own room. Just like that episode of The Brady Bunch where Greg gets his room in the attic. My parents put up a wall around the den and, voilà, a private room.

Back in the day, my room was filled with Beatles posters and a huge stereo. My sisters’ room held make-up and hair brushes, and you could hear Linda Ronstadt wafting through the walls. Cut to:  My sisters and I are grown and our rooms are repurposed. These rooms are still for kids, only now it’s the six grandkids — five boys and a girl. The girl is mine. My room comes full circle and becomes the nursery again, complete with crib and changing table.

My sister’s room, (she of the dog-food fight), becomes the playroom for the toddling grandchildren, filled with Duplos and waffle blocks, and a treasure chest of toys. Our eldest sister’s room is turned back into the den, minus tearing down the walls. The kids watch Pokémon, Power Rangers, The Power Puff Girls or whatever else strikes their fancy. At this point, the garage is filled with strollers, porta-cribs, wiffle ball bats and ride-on toys. You would think my parents were running a day care center.

As our kids grew, Duplos turned into Legos, Yugi Oh Cards, and then board games. The kids all knew they would be playing a hot game of Othello with Grandma, and they would always win, or the lightning speed card game “Spit,” which, of course, they would win, too. The house was filled with the grandkids’ backpacks. All the kids’ favorite foods lined the fridge and the snack drawers.

Remembering a Good Life

Time marches on and the youngest grandchild, my daughter, is nearly 20. My room/grandkids’ nursery has now become my mother’s roost. She has a desk with a computer where she emails jokes to her friends and checks on her Facebook newsfeed, and a TV. The Legos and all the other toys have been replaced with a rocking chair and a daybed. The fridge doesn’t hold much in the way of snacks. There are safety bars in the shower, and motorized chairs on all the staircases.

It’s a good life. And as for that soundtrack, as the camera pulls back and out the door, the music swells and we hear The Beatles singing “In My Life” over the sounds of teenage girls getting ready for dates, teenagers honking car horns outside the house, family parties, anniversary cakes, bridal showers, brises and a baby naming. And finally, the couple’s long-awaited kiss.

By Dana Klosner-WehnerDana Klosner-Wehner’s work has been published in The Washington Post and Newsday. She was a weekly contributing writer to The Baltimore Sun for five years. She recently started writing personal essays. Her first, “My Mom the Worrier,” can be found in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: My CrazyFamily. She lives on Long Island with her husband and 100-pound lap-dog and loves when her two college kids come home and fill up the house.