Story Walk: fragile

Story Walk: "fragile"

What Holds Me Here by Rob Tyler

I arrived in Rochester in the back seat of a ‘57 Chrysler DeSoto, carsick from four hours on the New York State Thruway and the stench of my father’s cigars. I was wedged against the door on the sunny side by my three sisters who shared the seat with me. We weren’t allowed to crack a window – the slightest breeze could damage my mother’s teased up do, fragile as meringue.

We pulled into the driveway of a house in Penfield, a split-level box in a new development close to the schools. The front yard was a rectangle of graded dirt. A wilted maple sapling stood dead center, still in its burlap root ball, leaning at a crazy angle. My father got out of the car and glared at that tree for what seemed like forever, hands on his hips. I was more interested in the field across the road and the exciting smells in the air.

84 Hillcrest Drive was my home for the next 12 years. I went off to college, worked for a while in Minneapolis, and then came back. All told, I’ve lived in Rochester for almost half a century.

People ask me why. It’s like this: you live somewhere long enough, it gets in your blood. It’s there when you close your eyes, laid out like a map in your head. It’s the landscape of your dreams, the backdrop for your accumulating memories, layers and layers deep. Everywhere you go, you’re reminded.

  • The garret above the drug story on Alexander Street, where I took my first full time job as ad manager for the Rochester Patriot newspaper: “The People’s Friend, the Tyrant’s Foe.” The ex-hippie managing editor with the sexy overbite.
  • The house in Swillburg my wife and I restored. My calves cramping from hours on the ladder. Our housewarming party under Japanese lanterns on the deck off the kitchen. The toothless neighbor lady who stole tomatoes from our tiny garden.
  • The church on Winton Road, where we took our daughter for day care. Leaving her with strangers. She’s in college now.
  • St. John’s home, which will always be the place where my mother died. Through the window of her room, I watched snow falling softly in Highland Park as she moaned in her sleep.

How could I leave a place so rich with memories? Nowhere else could ever feel like home.