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Home sweet home 

Inspired by a new book, we asked well-known Arkansans about their childhoods.

click to enlarge 14coverbrockmeier_image1.jpg

 

Many of us live near the house we grew up in. We can drive by, slowly, pointing out to our children where the picket fence used to be, where the roller skate was lodged in the divided tree, which window was best for crawling in and out of at night.

Sometimes, memories of home are made more poignant by the fact that we can’t go there anymore. Sometimes, we’re glad we can’t.

Former Sen. John Edwards, John Kerry’s running mate for vice president in the last presidential election, has published a memoir, “Home,” inspired by a visit to the three-room Seneca, S.C., house he lived in as a baby.

It made us think ... what about here?

We asked the following Arkansans about the places they think of first when they think of homes of their childhood. In several cases, we just let the recorder run. Our first (see sidebars for the others):

Kevin Brockmeier, writer

2323 Clapboard Hill Road, Little Rock

Kevin Brockmeier is a writer who lives in Little Rock. His latest novel, “The Brief History of the Dead,” will be out in paperback in January.

My family moved to Little Rock from Coral Springs, Florida, when I was 3 years old. We settled into a two-story brick house the color of coffee with lots of cream in it. It had a fireplace that gave off angry spitting noises, and a deck that hovered over the back patio on long wooden stilts, and a driveway that sloped neatly down along the side of the living room to the garage. My mom made me memorize the address in case I got lost, and I can still remember the galloping rhythm it made in my mouth, along with the war-drum beat of our phone number.

Twenty-three twenty-three Clapboard Hill.

Two-two-seven-seven-nine-nine-five.

I lived in the house for a full five years, and for pieces of a sixth after my parents divorced. The front yard boasted a pair of nearly identical oak trees, with leaves that turned a fiery scarlet in the fall. The back yard had a large bare spot in the grass that was shaped, it seemed to me, like an enormous footprint. I used to imagine the terrific sound the giant who left it must have made as he walked through our neighborhood. A creek ran along the rear side of our fence, swimming with tadpoles and minnows. One of the rocks I pried out of the clay is still on my bookcase today, a chunk of white marble with burnt orange veins.

My bedroom was on the bottom floor, partially submerged below the front yard. There was a section of wall between the door and the closet that my friends and I were allowed to draw on with crayons. My bed sheets had pictures of superheroes on them, and I liked to pretend when I was trying to fall asleep that I was one of them and we were soaring through the air together. My window was exactly at ground level, too high for me to reach without jumping. I was 4 years old the first morning I saw it snow. I poured myself a bowl of Boo Berry cereal, pulled a chair up to the window, and stood there eating and looking out at the white blanket that had covered our neighborhood. I have never been able to make this memory add up to much of a story, but it is so potent for me that I spent my early 20s scanning the cereal aisle for Boo Berry every time I went grocery shopping, though I was never able to find it anywhere. When it began to reappear on the shelves a few years ago, people began mailing me boxes from all across the country. Verdict: It’s terrible.

The other children on our block were Mic and Becca Boschetti, Butch and Melissa Mazumder, Justin and Kevin Miller, Eric Gonce, Mark Yarbrough, Blake Clifton and Andrea Onopa. These are some of the earliest names in my vocabulary, and I have known them for so long that they seem strangely like clues to me, passwords hinting at some hidden luxuriousness of meaning. A block to the west of us lived Susan Swaffar, my first crush, at whose fifth birthday party I won a game of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey by peeking out the bottom of my blindfold. When I was in kindergarten, I had an extremely vivid dream that I was sitting in Susan’s front yard talking to her when I accidentally swallowed a pinecone I had put to my lips. For years I was unsure whether or not this had actually happened.

One time I slipped a paper clip into the light socket in our family room and a burst of black soot covered my hand. Another time a sheep dog parked himself at the end of our driveway, and I cried when my parents told me we could not keep him. Another time our next-door neighbor was planting a sapling in her yard and I dropped my Batman figure into the hole, with the idea that I would return for it when I was older, climbing the branches to get it back.

It seems to me now that the five years (and pieces of a sixth) I spent in the house on Clapboard Hill were longer than the rest of my life has been.

It hasn’t snowed like that here in years.

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