So what do you think when the president of the United States moves into your boyhood home?
I had read for days that the Clintons were looking in Chappaqua, but now there it was, on the front page of The Washington Post: My old house--15 Old House Lane--was the Clintons' new home.
I delighted in telling everyone I knew about this unusual turn of events. My friends were impressed that the president would be living in the very place where I'd spent my junior high and high school years. Knowing that the Clintons liked my house was affirming, like getting a seal of approval from the president and first lady on the site of some of my fondest memories of growing up. Yet I hadn't lived there in nearly 20 years, so what did it really mean that the Clintons had discovered that old house I had loved so much?
My own first discovery of the house was a great surprise. In Manhattan, I had shared a cramped room in an apartment with my two younger brothers, but it was only after we resorted to playing baseball in the alleys of New York that my parents started hunting for a suburban home with a nice yard.
The day we first visited Old House Lane (back then there were only four unnumbered houses on the street--ours was the "Old House" at the end), my parents made us dress up in coats and ties to "visit relatives" in Westchester. I think they realized they could not coax us into the car for yet another house-hunting mission. When we arrived, they revealed the wonderful truth that this old house, with a barn, pool and three floors, was ours.
Excited, I remember immediately heading for the pool--like Hillary Clinton, I'd always wanted one--while my brothers explored the barn. Truth be told, the pool was dirty, full of leaves and not very inviting. But it didn't really matter. I was so captivated that--I still don't know how it happened--I fell right in. Soaking wet in my coat and tie, I took the humiliating walk back to my parents and brothers after an unexpected introduction to the old house that would become a cherished home.
Outside, where my brothers and I spent every waking hour of the summer, our endless baseball games created the signature bare spots: home plate, the pitcher's mound, third base. My dad struggled mightily to preserve the lawn, despite my mother's incessant reminders that, "As Grandma used to say, 'You can't raise boys and grass.' " He'd make us shift in order to reseed the bare spots, but a new "home plate" inevitably sprung up. Eventually, Dad relented. I guess he regarded a few bare spots as a reasonable price for an otherwise fine lawn around the house that he, too, loved so much.
Nearby, the barn we saw on that first day became a landmark: I still remember the first time I managed to hit my youngest brother Doug's Wiffle Ball pitch over its roof. In fact, I remember hitting many a towering fly, though my other brother, Whit, still disputes my recollection of the family home run record.
Behind the house were acres of woods, and I can still picture the beautiful deer that wandered into our back yard one fine day. Dad had us all sneak out quietly to watch her, from close range, for what seemed like an eternity.
Inside, my family took possession of every nook and cranny. Even our parakeet, Lincoln, had his own spot in the corner of the dining room. After he learned how to open his cage door, he would often spend his days pacing up and down the narrow kitchen floor. Whit had taught him to exclaim, "I'm Lincoln, let me out!" and one day Lincoln actually walked right out the front door. Three days of fierce thunderstorms rolled in, and our ideal home was threatened by the prospect of losing Lincoln forever.
Amazingly, a week later, the boy who had found Lincoln several miles away spotted my desperate mother's "Lost Parakeet" sign in the Grand Union, and our pet was returned. Our home was restored.
All these years later, it is still nearly perfect in my mind, even though the memory is tinged by the day that my parents told us about their looming divorce. We packed up sadly to leave our old house on Old House Lane.
Three years ago, not long before my father died, we visited the house with him one last time to see what we recognized and test our memories. We saw the many changes: the new pool, smaller and more sculpted; the barn converted into a guest house, which presumably will hold Secret Service agents now. The 50-foot evergreen tree was gone. So were the bare spots, replaced by an all-too-trimmed yard clearly uninhabited by young children. But we also saw what we wanted to see--the driveway, the front porch, the many parts of the house that were still so familiar.
I know the Clintons have found a fine house, and I really don't feel possessive. I'm willing to share my old house. I still feel like it belongs to me in some way, and that seems to be a truth about childhood homes: Don't we almost automatically trust people who show up at our door and say they grew up in our house? Don't we eagerly show them around and anticipate their stories of how things used to be?
I guess it's because your childhood home somehow always belongs to you, no matter who else moves in. I hope the Clintons like my house, and in the back of my mind I can't help hoping that perhaps they'll put up a small plaque that says "The Kaufman boys grew up here," just so no one forgets.
CAPTION: The Kaufman brothers--author Clay, Whit and Doug--in front of their home on Old House Lane that will soon be home to the Clintons.