Down the Road to Home
Looking back I can recall
A powdered sugar snow is falling
I’m seventeen, it’s Christmas Eve
And I can hear my childhood call, so
Out into the night I go, bundled in a woven memory
Up the hill and down the road to home
I used to know this place by heart
I could close my eyes and find it
We moved away, I shut the door
And left the little girl behind
What causes now this wall to break
An avalanche of tears and memory
Up the hill and down the road to home
Echoing across the yard is girlish laughter
Every step grows more familiar now
The window has a frosted pane
The backyard is a wonderland
And I am eight years old again somehow
I sit a while beneath the tree
That used to be my best companion
An evergreen, her branches lean
Against the wind and hold me in
And breathing deep I know this air
I’m planted here, there’ll always be
A part of me that knows the road to home
Go up the hill and down the road to home
Here’s the thing: I love to sing, and I love to write, and I know that in both categories I am pretty good but not great. But here’s another thing: It’s OK, and here’s why:
When I sing a song like Down the Road to Home, I get to relive a moment in this amazing state of humanness I am currently experiencing, and it does something almost indefinable to me. Like, if my life was a bolt of fabric, the thread of autobiographical songs is the basting stitch that holds the pieces together while I am designing the dress. It holds the past to the present without overtaking it. Writing and performing with sincerity allows me to go back over and over again, without being insane. At least not completely insane.
The first line of this song lets me to jump almost immediately into the present tense of the past. Words like “Looking back….” allow one to do such things. There is no “was” in the rest of the song.
Truth is, I was seventeen on this particular night. It was close to Christmas, though I don’t remember if it was absolutely Christmas Eve. My sisters and I had argued about something, who knows what, and I took my usual emotional path of escape. I walked out. It was very late, and mom was working, and I “ran away”. My poor sisters! Since I was very young I reacted to anger or hurt by running away from home. Even when I was adolescent and had absolutely no intention of truly leaving for more than 25 minutes, my sisters ran after me: “Oh Cori, please don’t go! We’re sorry, please, please, please come back!” Thinking of it at this moment it cinches my heart to theirs all over again. Who would not want the people they love begging them to never leave?
This night, when my toes were hanging over the edge of childhood, I needed to be alone with my tears. We had moved from the home of my childhood innocence the summer Dad disappeared. I was 14 then. We had moved into a first floor apartment at the bottom of East Bruceton Road. The town we lived in was called Pleasant Hills, because that is what it was: a bunch of pleasant rolling hills with ribbons of asphalt running across them and sturdy brick houses planted deep in the lots that lined the roads. It was snowing, a sifting kind of snow, like powdered sugar that is shaken through a sieve. I walked in the moonlight toward the sidewalks of my early youth; past the Municipal building and up East Bruceton Road toward Pleasant Hills Elementary School. Stood on the corner pretending to wait for the crossing guard to guide me over to the other side. Listened to the Presbyterian Church bells play a Christmas Hymn at midnight. Felt the cold wet of tears stripe my cheeks as I walked, my unsheltered hands tucked under my arm pits and over my quivering heart. My feet pointed down the road toward home: my Home, where someone else lived now. Past the rock Library and the Methodist Church, past Richter’s house on the corner, past my ex-best friend Cheryl’s house, and Principal Stoops’ house and finally to Kotsko’s house where we had been invited that one summer to their niece’s birthday party and they gave each one of us our very own upside-down ice-cream cone clowns. Next door. The gate to the castle, the hallway to my past. I was home.
I stood in the driveway and looked up into the branches of the old maple tree, filling with layers of snow now. I had climbed that tree before we moved, up to the very top, where I discovered a hollow bowl of trunk, like a sacred cup, filled with rainwater. It was a summer of discovery, though I don’t know exactly what it was I discovered. I wrote a love note to the world, on a piece of blue lined school paper. Folded it into the triangular shape of a “football” like we flicked with our fingers toward each other at the lunch table in Middle School. Drew a peace sign on the front, then climbed that tall maple and left it in the dip at the top, determining that it would eventually disintegrate and infuse my love through the air to all people.
I sat on the stoop by the front door, quiet; so quiet I could hear the snow landing on the branches of the evergreen near the kitchen window. The pine tree looked so much smaller than I had remembered. When I was very little I would hunker down in the dry pine needles under her branches and pretend I was a pioneer woman trying to keep my family warm in a winter blizzard. That tree was such a safe place for me. Crazy as it sounds, I tried to crawl under the tree that night, mind you this was after midnight, right there near the front door of someone else’s house. I did not fit, and the snow of the thick green branches flowed down onto my back like an avalanche. Instead, I wrapped my arms around the trunk of our Crabapple tree. Such a tree every child should have! We pretended for hours and hours in that tree. I broke my arm, one of three different times, swinging from that tree. I hugged it like it was breathing and I needed its warmth.
The back yard, layered into the rolling hillside on three levels, took my footsteps sweetly, welcoming my feet to pierce her virgin snow. I paused at the kitchen door to look in the window. Single paned windows reflected my frozen image, framed with geometric crystals of frost on the corners. It was too dark and I could not see inside. Oh, I ached to see inside. I looked past my reflection to the small girl who used to live there; to her sisters and her brothers and her parents and a time when there were no long term worries, just the wondering questions of what’s for dinner and will we get to go to Jefferson Swim Club this summer?
I sat in the snow down by where the incinerator used to be, on the lowest level of the back yard, until my tears were spent and I noticed my bum was cold. Somehow, I think, an angel kissed me on the forehead and told me to head back home.
I used to know that place by heart, and when I hear or sing this song, in some sublimely intimate way, I still do.
Note to anyone reading this blog: I apologize for writing such long entries where I dramatically over-use the word "I". Truth be known, these posts exhaust me. It is going on 3 am and I have completely thrown askew any normal sense of time since I started this Lent writing. I write for myself, and perhaps some distant grand-daughter who may one day happen upon one of my recordings and wonder what her grandmother thought when she was writing her songs. You are invited to join me in the trip down memory lane, though I don't expect it will be all that compellingly interesting to anyone other than me, and maybe my sisters. It's just that I made a promise to do this; so I am. I had not realized, before focusing so intently on my albums, that these songs were so heavy! I promise, after Lent, I will write something light and humorous and benign. Maybe check back then.