Detour on Memory Lane Stroll

Two or three times a year, the house shows up in my dreams.

I only lived there for two years, but when you're 8 years old, those are significant years. The house you live in at that age is your haven, but it's also a kind of jumping-off place that you begin to leave more frequently to go out exploring. It's the center of your growing world.

The house at 1025 N. Raymond Ave. in Fullerton was a terrific place to live.

But in recent years, it has appeared less and less distinctly in my dreams. The floor plan, the yard--even my own room--are only outlines, inconclusive and vague. The mind won't support such ghosts for long, and my dreams of the place have become shorter and shorter.

I'm 38 now.

I went to dinner in Fullerton recently and decided to drive by the house. There was a realtor's sign on the lawn. It was up for sale.

By the end of dinner I decided to call the realtor and arrange to walk through my old house to see how the last three decades had changed it.

The realtor, Gloria Moye of Realty World in Sunny Hills, threw my memories askew immediately. There was a pool in the back yard, she said. And the current residents, the Sawyers, have five children living there. Back in 1960, it was only my parents, my 1-year-old brother and me, and a pool was as likely to be in our back yard as a missile silo.

I dreamed about the house again that night, but I couldn't make a pool appear in the back yard. And when I mentally walked through the front door, the living room wouldn't swim into focus.

It did the next day, when Gloria opened the door and let me in. The walls were still covered with pine paneling, a point that I'd forgotten but which immediately clicked in when I saw it. The wood had held up well. And the stone fireplace in the center of the room was still there, but the gray slate that once surrounded the grating had been replaced by no-wax tile.

Through the big living room window, I could see the back yard and the pool. It didn't look right at all. I was supposed to see a lawn and a curving walk leading to the garage. I was supposed to see a wooden fence, not new cinder block. And most of all, I was supposed to see a big permanent brick barbecue that my father and uncle had built. It had been removed to make way for the pool decking.

The garage where my friend Alan Robertson and I had built a fort in the rafters had been converted by Bob Sawyer, an engineer, into an office and storage rooms. It made me a little sad. It was like turning the corner onto your street and suddenly discovering that you're lost.

The kitchen helped. All the original wood cabinetry was there, although most of the appliances had been upgraded. The original Western Holly range remained, which reminded me that there used to be a Western Holly stove with strange porthole windows. Every home in the neighborhood once had one just like it. A ceiling fan was decidedly not a part of my memories of that kitchen, but it seemed a good addition. And the sliding door that led to the living room remained, the only such door left in a house that used to have several.

The door from the kitchen to the adjacent den had been eliminated, effectively turning the den into a fourth bedroom, which was fine with me. When I lived there it was a nursery and smelled heavily of baby.

The fixtures in the bathrooms were not original, but much of the tiling was. The shower/tub in the main bathroom off the hall, for instance, still was lined with the pink tile that seemed to be in every house in the neighborhood.

The hall, which I remembered as being longer somehow, still had cabinets in the wall, which had been stocked with canned peaches by my mother during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The master bedroom, which had appeared vast and plush when I was 8, seemed terribly small, as did my brother's bedroom across the hall. But my own bedroom, now occupied by 11-year-old twin boys, seemed tiniest of all. I stared out the window across the alley toward the house where the Robertsons used to live and tried to find Alan's room. At bedtime, he and I would exchange messages from our bedroom windows using flashlights. But today the trees and bushes have grown and the view is obscured. And Alan and his wife and two daughters live near Carmel.

The house was only six years old when my family moved in but today it shows its age in subtle ways. The exterior could use a new coat of paint and the carpets have no doubt been trod by more than a couple of generations of tenants. Still, it's a solid house, well built and durable. Bob Sawyer said he has dulled more than one drill bit trying to bore a hole in the hardy lath and plaster walls.

The asking price: $219,000, a figure that would have made my father pale in 1960.

I'm still trying to decide whether I'm glad I went to see the old house. I don't know whether I like present reality encroaching on past memories. I loved living there.

Something Bob Sawyer said made me feel better, though. Standing on the back porch, I told him how my family would sit there on summer nights with glasses of cold lemonade and watch the sky to the south light up with the fireworks from Disneyland. Bob smiled.

"We do that, too," he said, pointing past a line of startlingly tall evergreens that were about my height when I was a boy. "You can see them right about there."

I hope the new owners, whoever they turn out to be, are happy there. And I hope they have kids.

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