Sometimes I'm troubled visiting the house I once called home. Not because I had a horrible childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, visiting has become bittersweet because the old homestead is just too quiet.
As the oldest of seven children, I am not accustomed to silence. My childhood home was many things, but quiet was never among them.
I don't know exactly when it happened. I went to college, and began my professional life. I didn't realize everything was about to change. In fact, through the yearly cycle of birthdays and holidays, weddings and funerals, things only seemed noisier than ever.
The dining room table expanded to accommodate new in-laws, high chairs and booster seats. Even in recent years, as we wrestled for Mom's mashed potatoes and vied for Dad's attention, suffering in silence remained a non-issue.
No, I suppose I noticed it first when I dropped in on a weekday, unannounced. No one was home. I could not help but ask myself: Where is everybody?
As I stumbled through a shadowy kitchen, I wondered: Where are the molasses cookies? My mother always said they were good for us, and liked to bake a fresh batch. How come Mom is not folding a towel, changing a diaper or ironing one of Dad's shirts? Where is the chart listing our jobs for the day?
I peered into the family room. Why is the TV off? Have "All My Children" really left the nest?
I reached for something to drink, only to hear a school bus whine outside. Oh, yes, this is where my sisters come bustling in. They will race to see who can make it to Mom first. Will Amy blurt out everything now -- or can she wait until dinner with her "big news." (Waiting never seemed likely.) Did Ellen pass that spelling test she was dreading last night? Will Liz announce her solo part in the chorus?
No, no, they're much past that, I tell myself. Amy waits for her own son now; she listens to his stories. Ellen is nursing a newborn, and Liz is toilet training her toddler.
No, the bus must belong to my brothers, Nick and John. Surely, they'll have tales from the day. I'm waiting for the door to slam, for my mother to yell "Wash your hands!" There would be no snack -- and no stories -- until their patties were clean.
But Nick owns his own home now. I suppose he can have a snack whenever he'd like. And John teaches children overseas. His stories would need translation first. I suppose it won't be the boys today.
Maybe it's Megan, my parents' last baby, 16 years my junior. Yes, Megan would dash in. A teenager in motion, maybe she'll find me before she spots the phone. We can finally have that girl talk, share the secrets we always seem to miss. I'm almost salivating as I check a vacant door.
Instead, I only hear the bus rev and a few neighbor children laughing, shuffling in another direction. Mom's kitchen is closed today. Her apron is clean, pressed, laying in a drawer, waiting for us.
I gained a new respect for my mother that afternoon. I always knew Mom could mash potatoes and bake molasses cookies. I knew she would wash our clothes, and insist we wash our hands. I knew she would study our spelling words, listen to our stories, celebrate our success. Yes, with seven children, I always knew Mom had to put up with a lot of noise. I just don't know how she handles the quiet.
Mary Jo Gill, of Snyder, prefers the days when her family home was bustling with activity and noise.