The Door, a Lone Window on the Past

The house now, destined for demolition.
The house now, destined for demolition. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Where we live shapes us, and we shape where we live. Today, Donna Cedar-Southworth looks back to a place -- and a person -- who shaped her life through an unusual prism, as the walls of that world are about to come down.

I plan to purchase the front door of my childhood home at the "demolition sale." They are about to level our home -- the one my dad purchased for our family of four in McLean in 1952 for $17,500 -- one of the first to be built. They will cut down the trees and build a "spacious new home" that will cost $1.3 million.

They will tear down the fence -- the one my dad painstakingly put up -- and they will tear down the swinging front gate behind which I waited every evening. When the car door closed, I would throw open the gate and jump into Dad's arms. Dad was home -- briefcase in hand -- with white, yellow, pink and blue carbon copies of correspondence he would review after I had gone to bed. Mom would serve dinner, and while he drank his coffee, I'd sit on his lap and bury my face in his chest. I still can smell the fresh tobacco of the cigarettes tucked in his left-breast shirt pocket.

I haven't been in the house since I was 12, but it's still my house -- our house -- where the movie reels of childhood memories reside. That is where life as I knew it, and "home" as I remember it, was and is. Those were the days when Dr. Mulvaney visited when someone got sick. And when we gathered around the black-and-white TV on Saturday nights to watch "The Ed Sullivan Show" and on Sunday nights to watch Lawrence Welk.

Those were the days when I was afraid of the dark, so my dad would leave the bathroom light on at night, and I could see his closet door across from the bedroom my sister and I shared. His closet: meticulous, alligator belts hanging in rows on which I'd focus my eyes before going to sleep. Those were the days when my dad finished the unfinished basement and paneled it with knotty pine. And I remember the smell of the fires he built while we decorated the Christmas tree, always demonstrating how to hang the icicles just right.

Those were the days when the apple tree in the back yard was so prolific that everyone on the block came to get some apples, put them in brown bags and carry them home.

The apple tree will, of course, come down. As will the mimosa and the crape myrtle. And, of course, the birch tree, where I used to stand and peel the white bark, fascinated that bark could peel so easily.

I wonder if anyone will purchase the knotty pine Dad nailed up to panel the walls. I wonder if anyone will purchase the wooden doors to the little shed he built out back. I wonder if anyone will purchase the fence or the front gate.

I wonder who came up with the term "demolition sale." And I wonder why the house couldn't just stand the way it was. It was fine for a family of four in the 1960s. In fact, it was perfect.

The property owner said it's okay for me to walk through the house one last time before it's demolished. Our house will be gone, but I will take home the front door.

-- Donna Cedar-Southworth, McLean

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