My heart fluttered in anticipation as our tiny rental car rounded the last corner of Main Street, Darley. I leaned forward in the passenger seat as my husband skillfully navigated the narrow village roads, straining to catch my first glimpse of the timeless stone cottage I hadn’t seen in almost 15 years. I exhaled a silent prayer of gratitude for this chance to return to a place I thought I’d never see again.
The drizzle of rain began to subside as we approached…
And suddenly, there it was.
Another car was parked in the driveway, indicating that the current owner was likely home. How odd that seemed! I hadn’t really put much thought into the fact that someone ELSE lives there now, and that idea seemed so strange to me as I sat in the car, gawking at the front of the house.
My heart was pounding and my hands quivered as I reached for my camera-
“Ok, I’m just going to take a couple pictures of the front of the house, really quick, to show my mom.”
“Babe, you know you need to knock on that door. Right now- this is your chance.” My husband smiled knowingly as he replied.
He was right. After all, I didn’t come all this way to just snap a few photos from the car like a total creeper! I needed to knock on that door. I needed to take the chance, and ask if I could walk around to the side of the house to see the back garden, too.
I shivered nervously in the brisk countryside air as I approached the front door, hand-in-hand with my sweet husband.
I knocked, and as we waited for an answer, a thousand memories flooded my mind.
This was the home where I spent some of the happiest years of my childhood. The home of a million springtime wildflowers and epic winter snowball fights, where I learned to play the piano, where my siblings and I made a tree fort in the back garden – that beautiful garden with nothing but miles of fields and pastures beyond the stone wall – where I raised my first kitten and experienced my first loss when she died, where we put on dramatic plays and performances on a makeshift stage in the living room, where my imagination ran wild, where we’d lay out on a blanket at night and find shapes and patterns in the starlight…. where I’d sometimes dream about what it would be like to grow up, and other times insist that I never would.
And now here I am.
15 years later, and I’m back home- even if only for a few moments.
The door opened, and we were greeted by the cheerful face of a young mother, with two beautiful girls at her side, curiously peeking out the door. (Side note: an amazing coincidence- the two girls were exactly the same age as my sister and I were when we moved away from the house in 2001!)
“Hello! I hope we aren’t interrupting your afternoon tea- my name is Kristin, this is my husband Kevin, we are visiting from Texas. I grew up in this house back in the 1990’s, and I just wanted to see if it would be alright if we went around the back of the house very quickly to see the garden one more time? It would mean so much to get a photograph to show my family. Would that be alright? We loved this house so much, and still talk about it often.”
“Of course, dear!” She replied excitedly, “How wonderful that you’ve come back to see your childhood home- that is the most amazing thing! Why don’t you take your time enjoying the garden, and then when you’ve finished please come inside and we’ll have some tea to warm you up. The girls will give you a proper tour of the house! It would be lovely to find out how it’s changed over the years.”
I felt joyful tears welling up in my eyes-
“Wow, I can’t thank you enough! We won’t be long, thank you so much! This means more than you know!”
Kevin and I walked hand-in-hand around the side of the house to the back garden, and the feeling of stepping back in time truly took my breath away.
There are moments in life when it almost feels like the end of a movie; loose ends tie together, reunion happens, joy explodes, and the credits roll.
Standing in our old garden felt like one of those “credit roll” moments: returning as a grown-up to the very place where I promised I’d “never grow up”.
My heart was doing complicated emotional somersaults:
I felt an overwhelming sense of joy in my vividly renewed memories,
and yet a powerful sense of grief that those memories are all behind me now.
I was in awe at how much this place had stayed the same,
and also in awe at how much I’ve changed in 15 years.
My husband and I had time alone in the garden to laugh and cry together.
After a few more minutes, we were invited inside, and I couldn’t have imagined that we’d receive such a warm welcome, and have the opportunity to befriend the current residents. Over a warm cuppa tea, they assured me that they would continue to take care of it so that it would always be a home full of love.
My heart was so full as we returned to our car and slowly drove away.
Even though we had to say goodbye to the house and the sweet family who now call it ‘home’, the memories I made there are mine to keep forever.