When I was a little boy, I thought it had a proper name. Everyone called it “Up Yonder” so often that I had assigned that name to it. “In Yonder” was the coldest room in our house. We had three bedrooms with “Chester Drawers” in each room, but I knew that if mom said something was in yonder in the Chester drawers, I would find it in that cold room in the corner of the house. As far as I could tell, we lived in the area of the compound known as The Holler. My bedroom was in yonder and I could see Up Yonder from there. Our house was a cinderblock house with a flat, black roof. I didn’t find that odd; I thought other houses were odd. Why didn’t everyone else live in a box, tucked into the hillside like ours?
The neighborhood didn’t have a name, but I thought it was the center of the world. I still remember going from house to house without feeling any sense of transition. The whole place was ours. Grandma lived Up Yonder and yes, that was her first name. Her last name was Coker. I didn’t know some people called her Della until I was much older. Must be a nickname. Uncle Roy lived in a trailer. His wife, Aunt Mable, lived there when she wasn’t Up Yonder with Grandma, but as to where she actually belonged, I could not tell. Like me, Mable just went from place to place and made herself at home.
Uncle Howard lived Up Yonder from time to time.
The Alexanders were family too, but I never really knew if they were cousins or what. Uncle Albert was simply Uncle Albert to me. Nobody told me he wasn’t my uncle but I wouldn’t have understood anyway. The Alexanders occupied four houses then. Granny Alexander lived in a trailer. She must have been kin to Grandma; the names were so similar.
It wasn’t that I felt I owned anything; Entitlement really never occurred to me. Ownership is so overrated when you can recall the way it feels to belong. I would grow out of the nest with my siblings. We would go our separate ways, but there was one place where we would always belong and we would go back there often and share that feeling throughout or lives.
Little by little, the neighborhood changed. Time didn’t stand still at all. Roy was the first to slip away. Weeds grew up around his trailer and one day, I came home from school and it was gone. Granny Alexander moved away to live with one of her daughters. Her trailer just disappeared too. One by one, the Alexanders moved away and there isn’t one still living in the neighborhood. Someone renovated Uncle Albert’s house. I was glad to see it get a new life. New bicycles lean on the old trees out there now.
We lost Grandma many years ago. Mable died many years later and Uncle Howard had to go to a place where he could be cared for. He is 85 now; suffering from dementia. Daddy died in 2009 but Mom still lives in The Holler.
Years ago, Daddy built an upper level onto the cinderblock house. What I thought of as our house has been nothing more than a basement for 42 years now.
Nature and neglect tried to take Grandma’s house. It was the last thing standing to remind us of the way things used to be. We’d open the unlocked back door and walk around sometimes. Pushing aside cobwebs and ignoring spiders, we’d go there and just have a look. With the reverence you might witness at one of the Stations of the Cross, we’d just walk into one of the rooms and stand in silence. It was not an old house to us. It was where we belonged. I would go there with one or even all of my siblings and I’d watch their expressions. With every visit, with every one of them, there would always be that gaze. They’d walk into a room and pause. They weren’t seeing the room, but the room had magically taken them through a wormhole and they were seeing another time. Bill could see Mable sitting in one of the old rockers. She’d be wearing a pastel, flowery sundress. Her finger would be pointing as she told an old story and she’d be laughing out loud. Myra could see Grandma Coker coming in from her garden. Jeffrey could see Uncle Howard drawing a picture; the same picture he always drew; there was always a house, a barn, a dog, a horse and an old truck. Me? I was satisfied seeing them while they saw whatever it was they saw.
We managed to repair the old house and we’ve been sharing it again. A new generation has come along and they see the old house in their own way. It may not be home to them, but it will forever be a part of their memories now. I love the old place, but I still don’t feel as if I own it. I don’t want to feel that way. I still feel as if I belong whenever I am there. It’s home.
Imagine my surprise when, as a young boy, I’d hear a preacher talking about how wonderful it is Up Yonder. I had no idea that Grandma’s house was so well known; and it seemed to be the place where everybody wanted to be. I get it now.
I wonder if someone from the younger generation will walk through that unlocked back door one day. I wonder if they’ll push aside cobwebs, stand at one of the stations and remember me. I hope so. I’ll be there, just like the old hymn says, “When the roll is called Up Yonder, I’ll be there.”
Here is Home Again by Elton John.
Here is Home Again by Elton John.