Monday, November 18, 2013

The Old Trailer

That old trailer was manufactured in 1959. When my old man bought the lot it sat on in 1975, it wasn't his intention for his family of four to live in it. The family was to live in the house on the corner lot next do it. He bought the lot with the trailer because he could afford it, and he liked the idea of no one living immediately next to the Frymire clan, at the corner of 8th Street and Sycamore. The trailer would be used for storage.

Dad didn't do his due diligence, however, and the foundation of the house was rotted, and inhabitable. (He also never took his wife by to look at the place before buying either lot.) The family moved in the trailer, and the old house was eventually torn down. For the next 22 years, though, remnants of the house's foundation remained. Rows of concrete about two feet high and a substantial number of bricks left from the house made for a veritable personal playground for my sisters and me, and my friends. We would play catch and tag and frisbee in the yard of that corner lot. As a grade schooler, I would imagine the fortress I would build on that lot once I had the means, a fortress that would have several floors, with an elevator large enough to carry my car - something of a mix between the Batmobile and Kitt from Knight Rider - up floor to floor. The inside looked somewhat like the batcave from the 1960s version of Batman in my mind.

For a few years, between 1983 and when my sister, Susan, went off to college in 1987, six of us lived in that trailer. You can imagine the shape it was in, being so old. Neither the "front" nor "back" door (both were on the same side, of course) locked properly, but we did the best we could with padlocks. It was never burglarized, but could have easily been. Whenever there was a thunderstorm, wind would sweep around the metal of the structure with a sound that terrified me. But the sound the rain made on the tin roof was beautiful. When the weather got really bad, and there was the threat of a tornado, sometimes Dad would have us go to Wal-Mart, sometimes to the concrete structure of the grain elevator where he worked.

By the time Dad passed away in 2002, the degradation of the structure was severe. Mom soon after moved into a house that Susan and her husband, Mark, bought for her. Susan took ownership of the lots and within a couple of years, the trailer was demolished, all remnants of the garage was removed (which Dad and Mark had torn down in the 90s when the old man feared the next good snow would cave the roof in), all the of concrete from the corner lot was taken away, all the trees were cut down, and all their stumps were removed. Susan still owns the property to this day. My other brother-in-law, Matt, regularly mows it and keeps it maintained.

Even though the lot is just a few blocks from the house Mom moved to, now the house where my oldest sister, Kim, lives since Mom passed in 2008, I had not been to the property in years when I decided to walk down and visit it on Christmas Day, 2009. I walked over to the lot around nine o'clock at night.

I can't tell you what compelled me to do so, at that hour, but I can tell you that growing up, I loved taking walks around town at night, especially down Main Street, and try to imagine what the city looked like in older times, decades earlier; what it would be like to time travel and walk down the mostly empty sidewalks of downtown at night during its different eras.

I guess you could say my walking down to visit the lot that night was an attempt at time travel.

As I approached the lot, I tried to determine where the sidewalk had been, the one that lead from the curb up to the concrete steps and the front door. With all the trees and stumps gone, with the driveway that divided the two lots overgrown and gone, it wasn't easy. I made my best guess, and walked up the sidewalk that was no longer there. I stepped in the area where the trailer had been. Moving around in different memories, unstuck in time.

I was vaguely aware of the front door of the house across the street opening. The red brick house directly across the street had been, and as far as I know, still a rental home, all my years growing up. A number of families came and went from there. It's current resident, probably a guy my age, but one I hadn't grown up going to school with, was watching me.

"Hey, can I ask what you're doing?"

Now, on one hand, I can see this from this guy's point of view. Nine o'clock at night, middle of winter, here is this odd guy in a big winter coat and hat pacing without clear purpose in an empty lot, in a not-all-that-great neighborhood.

It would have been very easy for me to turn to him and say, "Hey, my name's Dennis. Yeah, this probably looks weird, huh? I grew up in a trailer that used to be on this lot. My sister still owns the property; she knows I'm here. I'm just taking a way down memory lane, as lame as that sounds. Sorry, I didn't mean alarm anyone."

But on the other hand, now, fuck this guy. I grew up here. He was probably just another renter who had been there maybe a few months, and would probably be gone in a few more. What the fuck business is this of his?

And that's the hand I went with. I wasn't confrontational. I didn't even look at him. I just held my arm out, pointed to the ground in front of me, and said in a way that indicated this was the only explanation I intended to give on the matter, "I lived here." I was aware that I was adopting the stand-offish, stoic tone my old man often had. I was channeling him. As I've aged, I've been aware of adopting certain mannerisms and phrases of his, but I've never felt more like I was becoming him than in that moment.

"Okay," he said. "If you don't leave, I'm going to call the police." He wasn't angry or confrontational himself, just a guy concerned about the strange person stalking around the empty lot in his neighborhood.

I ignored him, kept pacing.

He went back inside.

I walked around a little more, still lost in my own world, but I knew the guy was right, I was in the wrong, and I should leave. Even if I did have permission from my family to be here, I was scaring at least one person in the neighborhood, and if the police came, the officer would probably tell me to get some damn common sense, do you know what time it is, I don't care if you have permission, get the hell out of here. So I walked north, up through where the concrete and bricks that had been my childhood fortress, and I turned and headed down Sycamore.

As I came to edge of the lot, I heard the guy come back out on the porch. "Hey, I just want to let you know, I called the police." My back to him, I just held up a hand acknowledging that I heard him, and kept walking. About three blocks later, sure enough, a Carmi police car drove past, headed to answer the man's call.

My attempt to time travel back to the home of my youth that night thwarted.

I haven't tried again since.

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