One of the most somber aspects of my recent trip to Tampa was the very real possibility that it was the last time I would stay in my childhood home.
In August 1966, just a few months before I was born, my parents moved into this house, which they'd had built in a newly platted subdivision around some lakes in Pasco County. They were practically the first people in the neighborhood, with just a handful of other houses surrounding them at the time. It was quite a drive from where they worked at the University of South Florida -- and it remained quite a drive, with steadily growing quantities of traffic clogging the country roads and highways -- for the next several decades. My mom was never entirely in love with its remoteness, though she grew to love the wildlife and birds, the lake and the mossy cypresses.
Over the years it became the focus of our family -- even after my father departed and built his own house about ten years later, I thought of it as the one constant in my world. No matter where I went or what I did, our house in Pasco County was always there, with the magnolia in the back yard and the holly out front.
My dad took the photo above in April 1968. That lamp in the front yard eventually fell down -- it rusted out at the base.
The house was the backdrop for countless family photos, like this one of me and my mom. I vaguely remember that banana tree in the front.
For much of my childhood, the landscaping looked like this -- junipers at the corners, a rubber tree, copper plant and mango outside the front door, a spiny yucca in front of the living room window. My mom hated that rubber tree, but I always liked it. It grew huge and gave the place an exotic air. Then it was done in by a series of freezes, along with the copper plant and the mango, and a live oak grew up in their place.
When I was in about the ninth grade, I got it into my head that we should sell the palm trees. My mom hated them, too, and I guess we'd heard that some nurserymen would pay for mature palms. I called around, but no one wanted them. They were the wrong variety and had no value. They eventually got zapped by freezes as well.
The trees got a lot bigger over the years, didn't they? And the road was paved some time in the mid-'70s.
My mom plans to put the place on the market later this spring. When it sells, she's moving to Jacksonville to be nearer my brother and his family. Who knows if that will happen before I return for another visit -- but it certainly could. It's also possible that whoever buys it will tear it down -- the lot, on a fairly large lake, is probably more valuable than the house itself, which despite some upgrades still feels very much like a product of the 1960s.
I'm not sure how I feel about that. In some ways it might be better, not having strange people living in the very rooms where we celebrated our birthdays and watched "Magnum PI" and stripped off bathing suits that were sopping wet from the lake.
No matter what, it will feel strange to lose this family focal point. And yet, I feel ready. When I left on Saturday morning it was hard to leave my mom, but not so hard to leave the house. I was sad thinking about it last night, while I was lying in bed -- but it seems time, for all of us.