The Then


If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that a long, long time ago, on a street not so far away, there lived a typical family of seven for the time: a mom, a dad, four brothers, and one annoying older sister. For seven magical years, they all lived in the house built by the dad with his own two hands.

But what you don’t know is this: It was a magical house.

Most remember the home they grew up in. It’s where most of their childhood memories remain. Many have asked me, “If you loved the house your brothers and The Sister grew up in so much, then why haven’t you ever returned to see it as an adult?” It is a very simple question with a simple, yet very complicated, answer.

I can’t.

If I returned to the house, we spent those seven magical years growing up in, two things will occur — neither good. Returning will color all memories I currently have of the time spent there.

Right now, I can still see clearly the dark green grass covering the hill in our backyard that slopes down to the leading edge of a swamp. The swamp at the bottom of the hill is just as swampy now as it was back when the giant tractor tire we were riding in splashed down in it.

Just beyond the swamp, the sun still glistens off the crystal-clear fishing lake atop the hill. On the far side of the lake, the Haunted Forest still looks as foreboding and unwelcoming as ever.

When I close my eyes, I still see all the places we spent our summers having outdoor adventures and misadventures like those in Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. I see it all through the young youthful eyes of the child me. The me who grew up there. Memories of those seven years seem to be never ending and bring me great joy whenever they surface.

If I return to our childhood home I’ll see it, and Flamingo Street, through the eyes of an old man.

Everything will change.

Surely, by now, the first house on the right as you turn down Flamingo would’ve been torn down. After all, the dilapidated white clapboard house with the three-foot-tall weeds covering the front lawn was almost falling down during my childhood. The house housed none other than my arch-nemesis Down the Street Bully Brad.

With the house’s demolition and removal, my childhood memories of the bully who taunted me for those seven years will suffer a similar fate.

It took my brothers and me three years of effort and fun to dig Cliff Condos in the face of the thirty-foot cliff located on the backside of the vacant lot next to Neighbor Thomas’s house.

By now some industrialist developer would’ve found a way to backfill the lot and build a huge house with a daylight basement. Sadly, Cliff Condos, and all the memories of us kids playing there, would be buried under tons of fill dirt – making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to dig their way out, resurface again, and appear in my stories.

Old Mrs. Crabtree.

By now, Old Mrs. Crabtree’s house wouldn’t be the only house down the hill in the cul-de-sac. And perhaps, upon retirement, she moved away from Flamingo. After all, she did get tired of us kids riding our bikes through her backyard all the time.

Surely the new owners would’ve erected a fence around the back and side yards. Gone would be any chance of fun for an adventurous kid to gain enough speed riding down Flamingo, down Crabtree’s driveway, and across her backyard before finally catapulting across Cripple Creek.

Also gone would be the ability for me to remember us kids doing the same thing during all those years we rode our bikes down her driveway and into the woods behind her house.


Inside our house was even more magical as the memories from outside. Dirty laundry tossed down the basement steps somehow reappeared clean and folded then placed in our bedroom dressers or hung up in our closets days later. Dirty dishes piled in the sink somehow were cleaned and stacked neatly in the kitchen cabinets by the next morning.

Any dirt tracked in from a good day of digging over at Cliff Condos was magically cleaned by the time we were out of the bathtub. Once or twice a week, four bathrooms were cleaned, dirty sheets were replaced by fresh ones on all the beds, and the best food imaginable appeared in front of us three times a day.

All the above happened as if by magic.

So, why can I never return to the house I grew up in? The magic of my childhood will fade and disappear along with my ability to recall those memories. Memories will be replaced with the stark reality of The Now. And The Now is not nearly as much fun and entertaining to write about as The Then.

Each week right here, you can read my childhood memories of The Then — stories from a long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.

The Then — kinda sounds like a book title — a book that I can easily see writing one day … as long as I never return to that magical house. A magical house that was built a long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]