A couple of years ago, Tink took me to visit the upper-scale Connecticut town where his childhood and teenage years were spent.
He pointed out the New Haven train line that took his father to work daily at an advertising agency in New York City. The gas station, where he once worked as a teenager, is still standing. It was there that he gassed cars, wiped windshields, checked the oil and saved his money to buy his first car.
His elementary school with the totem pole is still there, both the school and pole. The small town is a picturesque place of rolling, green, perfectly manicured lawns, rock walls built during early America, and two-story Federalist homes. In the entire county, I doubt there is even one trailer park or a single trailer.
It is a coastal town, which is where Tink learned to love the smell of a marsh and how the sun lights it romantically at various times of the day. He pulled the car slowly into the parking lot of a beach club where he and his siblings spent most of their childhood summer days, running, laughing, splashing and charging lunches and snacks to their mother’s account.
He smiled. “A lot of fun days were spent there. From morning to supper time and often later.” He was a boy who spent a lot of time on his bicycle, so he showed me the roads and the paths he rode, pointing out how little traffic there was on those roads back in those days.
The first home of his life, an early American two-story clapboard, was deserted, with a Realtor sign in front and grass too high. He pulled to the curb. Gingerly, we stepped out and walked back to a once happy time that, one day, changed dramatically.
“We stood at that window, watching as my dad drove away. We were so sad.” Divorce would come quickly and leave Tink’s determined, capable mother to oversee the raising of four children. We visited the quaint Presbyterian church where Miss Ruth assembled her brood every Sunday. While the other three children attended Sunday School, the smallest one, Little Johnny, squirmed in the seat next to his mother.
Later, Tink eased the car into a tree-lined neighborhood and pulled up to a large turn-of-the-century Victorian.
“This,” he said reflectively, “was my favorite house. I was 4 or 5 when we moved here. I remember that when we came to look at this house, Mom had us join hands, get into a circle and pray that God would help us find a way to have this house. And, he did.”
Lush gardens spilled abundantly around the house and flowers grew along the pea-gravel drive. A woman, in her late 40s, was talking on the cordless house phone while she cut flowers.
Before Tink could stop me — he is quiet and non-intrusive — I was out of the car waving to the woman as I approached. She ended her call and smiled tentatively. I introduced myself and explained that my husband grew up in that house.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “Please, come in. We’d love for you to see it and tell us anything you know about it. We love this house.”
Soon, her husband approached and, equally nice, he insisted that we see his office and work space in a charming structure built in the back. They could not have been nicer. It was a lovely experience for all of us. Lastly, we dropped in on his best childhood friend with whom he shared many glasses of cherry Kool-Aid.
The trip ended and we returned south to the Rondarosa where, from high on the hill, we can see a double wide in the distance. It’s much different from the place he knew as a child.
But no place, he will tell you, has ever felt more like a true home. Trailers and all.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter. Her column appears Tuesdays.