When you think of the concept of “home,” do you think of where you currently live, or does your mind jump to somewhere else?
Although I love my current home, I still yearn for the house where I grew up, 701 Concord Way in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. From where I’m sitting now in my house in Philadelphia, 701 Concord Way is technically only 25.1 miles away, but it’s worlds away in reality.
Although it still exists, it really doesn’t anymore. Not how I knew it, anyway.
I can’t go there anymore — my dad sold the house in the summer of 2013, after having owned it since the mid-70s.
My brother Doug and I grew up there. My dad knew the guts of the house like the back of his hand, and my mom could locate any object in it, as if she had the contents memorized. She also kept it extremely clean, earning her the nickname “Immaculate Mary.”
I knew every floorboard squeak — what kid doesn’t? Up until two years ago, the house was the only one Doug ever knew. The house was a part of all of us.
Although it’s not a living thing, I believe houses and places can have souls, of sorts. Just like New York was a treated as a character on “Sex and the City,” locations have their own life forces that hold secrets, tell stories, bring comfort and also remind us of pain. Just like I’m endlessly processing the deaths of my parents, I’m also grieving the loss of my childhood home.
It was 2,100 square feet with four bedrooms, two full baths and one powder room. My parents never did any wholesale rehabbing, just some stuff here and there, like the downstairs floors, the refrigerator and oven range.
The bathrooms were like 1970s time capsules with the goldenrod toilets and sinks. It never occurred to me that anything was wrong with that until my dad put it up for sale. Home buyers don’t appreciate vintage bathrooms.
When we first moved in, I had my own bedroom because none of my four older sisters wanted to share with me. They doubled up, and by the time Doug was born, some of my sisters had moved out so Doug and I each had our own rooms across the hall from each other.
Our bathroom, dubbed “the big bathroom,” had double sinks and a long counter, where I’d spend hours playing with hair and makeup as an adolescent (my love for bathrooms has deep roots!) The lighting in there was amazing, and after I moved out for college, I lamented that I never lived anywhere that had such perfect lighting.
My parents were proud of the house — it was a typical suburban colonial, but they took great care of it. They sunk a lot into landscaping, plus my mom planted flowers, and my dad planted all of the trees that still stand on the property today.
In the mid-90s my parents installed a large wooden gazebo in the back yard, equipped with screened windows, a ceiling fan and cable TV, where my dad would watch baseball games at night during summer. At some point they got the siding redone, so the house went from being green to gray.
Even though it was just one box with a roof in a sea of boxes with roofs, we did feel a little special because the house was different from all the others around us.
It’s the first house in a development called Pelham Green, and there are four or five basic models that exist “in the back,” which is what we called the streets that snake deeper into the development.
But, ours was built by a completely different developer for some reason. It was completed first, we bought it and moved in, and within a year, the others were built and bought and occupied by the families who would become our neighbors and our lifelong family friends.
While our neighborhood was still a construction zone, our dog Sam, a German Shepherd/Collie mix, escaped and ran a few streets down, leaving dog prints in the sidewalk concrete. Sam’s dog prints are still there.
Over the years my sisters and I moved out, and only Doug and my parents were left. It’s still the place we all went home to for holidays and birthdays or just to visit. I lived in different parts of the country for almost a decade, and sometimes I’d go on Google Earth and look at my old familiar places in Philly as well the house, feeling a little homesick.
After a brief bout with brain cancer, my mom died in the house, on Dec. 13, 2006, in a hospital bed that we had set up in the dining room. After that, it was just my dad and Doug. My sisters and I helped as much as possible, but my dad felt the burden of trying to keep the house running. He had never cooked, cleaned or paid bills in his life.
Tumbleweeds of dust formed and the house became grimy. My dad came up with a laundry system that involved installing a makeshift line in the dining room where he hung clothes to dry. He never wanted anyone to come over anymore, but we did what we could, when we could. It was so sad because my mom was so meticulous about keeping everything clean at all times, but he couldn’t keep up. This is what he wrote in his memoirs about this time:
What was amazing was that for 50 years I had always thought that Mary should not have to go out and work for the family finances. That was my job. Mary’s job was to take care of the kids and the house. I thought that was the easier of the two major tasks. It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that I was wrong. Very wrong. When I pray I ask her to forgive me for minimizing the effort that it took to keep the family on the straight and narrow.
My dad had a stroke in his bed in October 2012. The morning that he was brought out of the house by paramedics was the last time he was ever inside 701 Concord Way. (We found out later it wasn’t a full-fledged stroke, but it was enough to make his left side weak, so he relied on a wheelchair most of the time until he died.)
Luckily, my workplace was just a few minutes away, so I packed some stuff and grabbed Sassy and began living at the house, taking care of Doug, during the week. From Friday night to Sunday afternoon I was back home in Philly hanging out with a cute guy named Mike.
My life felt scattered and bifurcated, and by Christmas we came up with a more permanent solution: Doug would move in with one of my sisters and she’d become his legal guardian. By January 2013, none of the Lawsons lived at 701 Concord Way anymore.
During those idle months in early 2013, before the house went on the market and before Mike and I bought our own house in April of that year, I’d sometimes still crash there. I worked at a newspaper and had an erratic schedule, 9-5 some days, 3-11 others, so it was convenient.
Sometimes, if I was in the immediate area, I’d even pop in and eat lunch there alone, sitting on the kitchen counter. It felt like I was visiting a friend.
When the real estate listing was posted online, I was struck by the fact that my family’s kitchen table was in the photo. It’s just a small thing, and I know it’s commonplace.
But still, it felt too personal somehow. That’s the only kitchen table I ever knew growing up, and if I had enough room or a place to put it, I would’ve taken it when the house was being cleaned out. As for where it is now, my guess is a thrift store (or maybe it’s been purchased by now) or a landfill.
The house sold in August 2013 to a young family. I drove by exactly once after that, and some kids sports equipment was in the driveway. I immediately felt tears coming — this was real. There were strange cars in the garage and strange people in there. They were ripping up my parents’ landscaping and probably ripping up the inside. The key I’ve always had on my key chain wouldn’t work in the door locks anymore.
But, I’m comforted by the fact that 701 Concord Way is helping and watching another family grow. The kids attend my elementary school, AM Kulp.
So, it’s like the cycle of life is starting all over again for the old house. Even though the house has moved on, and I have too — after all, I haven’t lived there for 20 years — 701 Concord Way will always be my home in my heart.
If the current owners of the house ever read this, please email me or leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you. 🙂