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SPIRITS OF THE PAST INHABIT CHILDHOOD HOME

A few weeks ago, I brought my family from Orchard Park to visit my parents and my aunt in North Buffalo, where I grew up. Included in the entourage was my new Mastiff puppy.

After dinner, while the adults finished dessert and my children played inside with their cousins, I took Brutus for a short walk that ended in my parents' back yard.

It was a clear, cool evening with a slight breeze that caused the neighborhood trees to sway as if beckoning me back to my younger days. A bright, full moon provided the yard's only illumination.

Brutus methodically explored the yard's narrow concrete walkway and thin strip of grass. As I watched, my mind slowly drifted backward in time.

I remembered Sabre, Tasha and Barron, the dogs I grew up with. They once ran and chased ragged baseballs in this very yard during the days I made the daily trek up North Park to attend St. Margaret's grammar school and eventually St. Joe's High School. I could almost see them excitedly retrieving a torn-up softball or barking at squirrels running along the telephone lines. I wondered if Brutus could sense their presence, or if their spirits might be a bit disapproving of the affection I had for my new dog.

I looked at a fenced-in area of the yard that housed a dilapidated swing-set and an old wheelbarrow whose heavy orange rust made it look like a deformed pumpkin.

This was the spot that once held a swimming pool, where I learned to swim, played a hundred different games with neighborhood friends and, in an act that I would be mortified if my children ever tried, jumped off the garage into the water pretending to be a skydiver.

The garage, now cluttered with broken toys and bikes with flat tires, once held raucous Saturday night sleep-overs. A short distance away were a few withered posts sprouting from a patch of brown grass that in long ago summers supported our tomato plants.

In front of the garage, I saw green tufts of grass poking through serpentine cracks in the driveway. It was here, after school, that I would play basketball or hockey with my younger brother until we heard the familiar knock at the back window and turned to see my mother motioning that dinner was on the table. We would squeeze out a few more free throws and sometimes get lost in another game. Inevitably, this elicited a second, more adamant call to dinner.

Although the upstairs back porch is now long gone, I remembered my Aunt Carol reading books there on warm summer afternoons. She occasionally called down to let us know we were getting to be better players or to be careful when we started getting too rough with each other. My grandmother, who died many years ago, would also voice her approval or concerns from that second-floor crow's nest.

I felt a nudge at my leg and looked down to see Brutus calling me back to the present. I heard the muffled laughs of the children echoing inside the house.

The spirits from the past would have to return to their memory chest and wait for another day when a gentle breeze swayed the trees and the moon was full and there was nothing to keep me shackled in the present. I walked back to the house following Brutus' wagging tail, hoping that one day our spirits would inhabit this place and someone would remember.

MICHAEL ALBERT is chairman of the Department of Pathology at Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo.

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