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JAMES BEHRENS: Childhood home brings back fond memories

Visit to my childhood home brings back fond memories

A few years ago, I returned to the house where I had spent much of my youth. The house is in Montclair, N.J., and it will always have a strong, deep hold on my heart.

When we moved from there, I was already in the seminary and when my mom and dad moved to Connecticut, I never really lived in the new house. I visited a lot, but it could not harbor the same memories I had when we lived on Christopher Street in Montclair.

I wonder if a lot of people feel the same way. There are places in life that make a lasting imprint on one's heart. As much as we wish we could go back, life beckons us to move on, to remember what was good in the past and to somehow bring the best of the past to the present.

I rang the doorbell and a man answered the door. I sheepishly told him who I was and why I had come. He was a nice guy and understood my need to look at the rooms, the yard, the places I remember so well that I can recall the wallpaper patterns, the old doorknobs, the smell of the house on a warm summer's day.

It was a good smell -- a smell of life, of cooking, of freshly cut grass.

I went to the backyard and stared at the hill that sloped down to the houses behind our house. We used to ride our sleds down that hill in the winter. In the summer, the kids in the neighborhood -- there were many of them -- played cowboys and Indians.

When I was in high school, I would sneak down the hill and then behind the garage and smoke cigarettes that my brother and I had pilfered from our parents. I wondered if there were still some butts back there.

I stared at the hill and remembered it being a lot bigger, steeper, more treacherous. I asked the owner, who was standing next to me, if he had leveled off the hill. He said no, that it had been that way for years.

I told him about our youthful adventures on that hill. He said that there are not that many kids in the neighborhood anymore and the few kids that there are pretty much stay indoors or, if they venture outside to play, they do so on organized teams. Nothing spontaneous, he murmured.

Times change, I thought. But some things don't change. That hill looked so big when I was a kid. I suppose that I felt good when I overcame my fear of sledding, or when we played for hours on its grassy slope. After a few years, there was very little grass left. We had played most of it away. But today it has all come back, nice and green.

I wrestled with my brothers on that hill. Mom would get mad when we came into the house covered from head to toe with dirt, with grass stains on our knees.

Now I wonder about that hill I left behind, and the other ones that took its place. Places and events, challenges and opportunities that came my way and which I had to deal with.

Life is like all these highs and lows, some good and some not so good. But taken all together, when I look back, it all makes for good memories. What once seemed so big and scary was not really that big at all. I suppose I was small, and had to figure out a way to rise to the challenges of that hill. And I did.

Then we moved on, to a new place, and new ups and downs.

There is no getting around the hills in life. Some we climb, some we ride, some we wrestle on. I do not know of any other way that we grow and learn to love all that made us what we are.

Life is beautiful, so beautiful, as seen from the top of a hill that served me so well in life.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.