Generosity Of A Stranger Gives Man A Chance To Go Home Again
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By John Dodge
CHICAGO (CBS) — As the middle-aged man walks up the driveway, he feels as if he in walking back in time.
He pauses for a moment.
Looks at the front yard.
And there he is, wearing dirty Sears Toughskins jeans, sliding across the lawn to win a spirited game of Kick The Can with the neighborhood kids.
Those jeans weren’t cool, but he insisted his mom buy them because they were good for sliding.
The man turns to see another gentleman on the front porch.
He must have come outside, wondering why a stranger was standing in his driveway.
“Hello. I just wanted to introduce myself. I grew up here. My bedroom was right up there,” the man says, pointing to the window above the porch.
We bought this house from your mother, says the home’s owner.
He offers his hand, his name is Craig.
It has been nearly 30 years.
Come on in, Craig offers, you can see your room.
This is a stunning, unexpected gesture.
The first thing the man notices: The railing has been replaced on the stairs.
He is drawn to it because that’s where the stockings were hung at Christmas.
The man and his sister would be forced to wait at the top of the stairs, while dad made tea and got the camera ready, but they could at least see what was in the top of those stockings.
He places the point in the living room where the Christmas tree always stood. The same place, for 20 years.
One year, the man had saved is paper route money to buy his mom a box of chocolates.
He wrapped it and placed it under the tree.
When the family returned from church, Pepper the dog had eaten it all.
As a boy, he had no idea that chocolate was bad for dogs.
But that dog, a black lab/beagle mix, was indestructible.
He survived and went on to eat a half-dozen flash bulbs one Easter and 14 pounds of dog food on another Christmas Eve.
Craig says they haven’t done too much to the house, but he did install air conditioning.
The man laughs.
The man’s father didn’t believe in air conditioning.
He spent many summer nights sleeping on the basement floor. His room, with one window that faced directly into the setting sun, was too hot.
As Craig walks upstairs to show the man his old room, the man notices all the family photos on the wall. It is obvious that he has two lovely daughters.
The girls have moved out, the youngest just a few months ago, although her room (the man’s room!), looks like she hasn’t really left yet.
Craig lives alone now. His wife passed away six years ago.
The man tries to do some quick calculations.
He gives up.
That’s all you need to know.
Many things are familiar: The coolness of the basement where he slept; the tiny television room, where he and his buddies crammed onto a tiny couch to watch the Bears; the big backyard where he played catch with dad.
The willow tree, where he spent hours hiding in the canopy of branches, is gone.
Hit by lightning during a storm, Craig says. Pulled all the wires down with it.
When his family moved here, the man says, there was nothing but open field across the street. His friends caught snakes, they rode bikes and climbed trees to dangerous heights there. Never a care from mom and dad.
He would sneak into the barn down the road and take a nap in the loft.
The house is located in a northern suburb. It is a simple, rectangular box. There are no architectural accoutrements. It’s three bedrooms, half brick. It was the kind of tract home popular in the 1950s when it was built.
Sadly, Craig says, it’s also the type of house that would be the target of a tear down. That’s what popular in the 2010s.
The man swallows hard. That is a hard thing to hear. He is biased, but he believes there is plenty of life left in this home.
Craig understands that time changes everything.
He grew up in the South Shore neighborhood and his family held out there until the 1970s when it simply wasn’t safe to be there any longer.
His father owned a shoe store there, the kind of family business that held a neighborhood together, until it just couldn’t.
The man thanks Craig for his time.
It was a gracious and generous gesture to open up his home to a stranger.
They were strangers, with a bond forged by memories.
Time marches on and memories can fade. It is nice and good to get them back.