The general story behind the song, or at least my interpretation, is that she is feeling overwhelmed by adulthood and her responsibilities. In the hope that it will give her some measure of balance, she returns to the house she grew up in. I don't relate to this song in the way you'd think. I didn't have one single home that I grew up in and the homes we did have are filled with memories I've spent nearly 16 years trying to outrun. That's not to say I didn't have that one place that always made me feel "right". It wasn't any house I lived in with my parents, though. It was my Granny's house.
I've written a lot about my Granny. She's been gone 6 years, but she's rarely far from my thoughts. It's not so much that I enjoy dredging up the past as much as I simply couldn't forget her if I tried. My Granny was my rock. I have heard a lot about the type of parent she was to her children and it isn't always flattering, but I never once saw that side of her. She had a special bond with all her grandchildren, but I've always felt her & I had something that was completely different than what she had with my siblings & cousins. Not that she didn't love us all the same, because I know she did, but there was just something between her & I that set our relationship apart in my eyes. Maybe it was b/c she was all I had. My siblings & cousins had at least one parent who loved them without question, but I never could count on my parents for anything. I think Granny recognized that and wanted to do what she could to minimize the fallout from my childhood.
Despite the instability of my home life, there was one place I always felt safe. That place was Granny's house on Hilsinger Rd. I have heard that is where I spent the first few weeks of my life. My mom was only 18 when I was born and for whatever reason, her & I left the hospital and went to stay at Granny's house. I have even heard that Granny was the one who really took care of me during that time, which would explain a lot. Obviously, I don't know much about my first few weeks, but I do believe that was just the first of many experiences that would forever bind my heart to the Hilsinger house.
The things I remember the most vividly is the sound of the weiner dogs barking whenever anyone would pull into the driveway, accompanied by the sound of the gravel crunching beneath the car tires. I remember the grate by the door to the kitchen where we'd wipe our muddy shoes before entering. I remember the wood bin on the right side of the porch. Walking in, the first thing I'd smell in the colder months was the wood stove. During the warmer months, the first thing I'd smell was the scent of the Phoenix water. Don't ask me to describe how water smells b/c unless you've been there, you couldn't begin to understand. It wasn't a bad smell; just different.
Walking through the kitchen were the saloon-style doors that separated the kitchen and dining room from the rest of the house. *My sister corrected me here. They are actually dutch doors, not saloon doors.* Stepping up into the hallway, there was the entrance into the livingroom area. Around that entryway, engraved in the wood were random scribbles and my Dad, aunt, and uncle's initials. The hallway was where Granny's old pencil sharpener sat, along with her old telephone and address book. I remember this b/c I spent a lot of time playing with both of those items. I suppose I was very easily amused, even back then. Turning right in the hallway was the bathroom with the outlets rigged so that when you flipped on the light it would turn on the radio, always dialed in to some talk radio program. The mirrors in the bathroom were cool to me. There were several mirrors (three, I think) that surrounded the sink so that when you were standing there, you could see yourself in triplicate. Further down the hallway was a step down to another hallway that led to the attic stairs and the two back bedrooms. The bay windows in the bedrooms have always been a favorite feature of mine and I hope one day to have something similar in my house. That second hallway was dark and would sometimes house homemade bottles of ginger beer and root beer.
The livingroom was a large, open space. To the left were a pair of french doors and Granny's sewing room. The sewing room was another favorite haunt of mine, as it was filled with spools of thread in every color, patterns galore, and Granny's various creations hanging all around. I recall the sound of Granny sewing as if she were here now, piecing together one of her outfits. One wall in the livingroom was made of rock. The main part of the livingroom was wide open, save for Granny's big papasan chair and her rocker. Granny would often scoot those aside so I could skate across the hardwood floors in my socks.
Outside, the pasture and yard was the setting of many adventures. Whether it was over by the pond & rock bridge, in the back pasture where Granny hung her laundry on the line, or in the old rope hammock, there was plenty to see and do at Granny's. She had sheep, dogs, cats, and a vegetable garden. The Hilsinger house was always alive with sounds. The chime of Granny's phone which sounded more like a doorbell than a telephone ringing, the bleating of sheep, the steady sound of Granny's sewing machine, or the yipping of Heidi & Motzi. Sometimes you'd smell fresh baked bread, other times it was the scent of Granny's hippy soap right after she took a shower.
And I could never forget the sight of Birkenstocks sitting by the rocker in the kitchen where Granny would sit when she was on the phone. Or the old wooden dish drainer that was always on the counter next to the sink.
I think of all these things and it fills me with a combination of warmth and sadness. It's bittersweet, remembering those days spent at the Hilsinger house. Sometimes it brings me back to that calm, comfortable, and safe sense that I had as a child. Other times, it makes me miss those days and wish that Granny were still there. Wishing I could just dial up her phone number & hear her voice on the other end. (I still remember her old phone number, too. 535-4571. The phone number I always knew I could call if I needed anything at all.)
I've driven by the Hilsinger house on occasion but it isn't quite the same. Granny's last name is still on the giant mailbox out front, but that's the only outward sign of the past. The new owners keep the gate closed, something that was a rarity when Granny lived there. The bushes are overgrown so as to obstruct the view of the house from the street. The dogs don't yap anymore. I tell myself that one day I will get the courage to walk up & ask the new owners if I could just look around. As if walking through that door will provide me some measure of comfort that it did when I was a child. I imagine stepping inside and being whisked back to a simpler time. Experiencing the sights, smells, and sounds I did back in the day. As if the doorway was just a portal to another dimension, and all that is wrong in my life will suddenly be right again. Like that piece of my heart that died with my Granny will be restored. I know that's not realistic and that's probably why I have never knocked on the door of Granny's old house. Because I know it won't be the same. The spirit that was there is gone now and I don't think I'm prepared to give up my precious memories for reality.
"If I could just come in, I swear I'll leave. Won't take nothin' but a memory. From the house that built me."