I hesitate at the front doorway. The very doorway that I blew through countless times as I returned home from school each day, the doorway that I tiptoed through when curfew was long past, that I floated through in a wedding dress and veil one sparkling June day.
I picture the reaction that I'll get from the folks on the other side of this door, their baffled faces saying, "You're who?" My mom had said that the new owners were lovely people. She even gave them a little break on the price: "I just feel good knowing that a nice family will be living there."
I glance back at my car in the driveway, and my husband waves me on like a third-base coach. I knock. Footsteps follow.
The door flies open before I can even get a word out.
"Hi!" the woman beams, confident that I come in peace. I begin my introduction just the way I rehearsed it, with brevity in mind. "Hi! You don't know me but my name is Erin Cronin, well actually that's my married name. My maiden name was Tiernan and . . . " Before I can get another word out she's shaking my hand and pulling me inside. That's when my husband gets out of the car.
"Oh, it's so nice to meet you! How's your mom? Any Tiernan is more than welcome here!" she gushes. I now understand my mother's price break decision.
I don't even have to ask for a tour or explain my need to be in this place. This kind woman walks me through one room after another with her two kids in tow, no less. The house smells different, looks different, but somehow feels the same.
"Which room was yours?" the elder of the two children asks as we approach the second floor.
"This one!" I answer, and sure enough my throat tightens, eyes begin to tear, and I long to be a kid again. I can almost see myself flopping on the bed, hunched over at my desk trying to solve one of those complicated word problems all the math teachers were so fond of, singing into a hairbrush and tossing my long hair back like a blond Cher.
"Now it's mine!" my little friend declares, with no malicious intent.
"Well, how about showing me around your room?" I ask.
The wallpaper is the same. Black and white trees, the "People's Park" pattern. I remember that my mom let me pick it out myself when I was 13, and my dad and I hung it one stifling Saturday in June. I remember my dad and I talked a lot that day while we measured and cut and smoothed those trees. I can still smell the sticky wallpaper paste and faintly hear Creedence Clearwater Revival crackling through my ancient clock radio. My mom bent the rules and let us have a picnic lunch up there and we both sat, cross-legged on the floor, eating our sandwiches, and it felt for all the world like we were in a lovely park.
"You're not listening!" my guide reminds me.
"I'm sorry. Go on." I say.
He shows me his rock collection, his gerbil, the coin counter on his bedside table. There are tough-guy action figures on all three window skills. And books all over the place.
"Just a wild guess, but . . . do you like to read?" I tease, as I motion toward the many piles of books. I spy "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and naturally reach for it. "You know, I once holed up in this room for an entire weekend and read this book cover-to-cover!" I tell him.
The woman and her son look at me as if I've just spoken in tongues. "That's exactly what Matthew did a few months ago! I had to plead with him to come down for meals, to take a shower, for heaven's sake. All we heard for weeks was Tom this, Huck that, caves, river rafts!"
The boy and I exchange smiles. Buddies.
I'm leaving these folks an hour and a half and two Diet Pepsis later, when the woman, Carolyn, says, "The next time you're in the area you have to stop by again! We're putting new wallpaper up in Matthew's room."
"Yeah," he says, "and I got to pick it out myself, and my dad and I are going to hang it together next weekend."
"Well, have fun," I manage to say. "Maybe your mom will bend the rules and let you guys have a picnic lunch up there."
Lots of good wishes, waving, smiling. My old house is in the very best of hands.