My childhood on Back River was grand. I was a happy kid and I had a ton of fun. As a child, it was easy to see where my life was going. I would finish going through school at Sandalwood Elementary, continue on to Deepcreek Middle School and eventually I would go to Chesapeake High. I wasn't sure where the high school was, but I knew you had to ride the bus to get there, so it must have been really cool. After High School, I would join the military and fight Communist Russians. After that, I was off to be an astronaut! Yep, my path was pretty clear as a young boy on the Back River...
But, as anyone who has lived a while knows, all good things must come to an end. One day, the whole family (Me, Ashley, my sister Joan, and my Mom) were all in the car and we were coming home from somewhere. As we pulled into our driveway, we noticed there were two men standing on our property. My mom stopped the car and jumped out. I was eager to see my mother, the woman who had chased police and countless others off our property, chase away another trespasser. I could hear her raised voice when she initially yelled to find out what they were doing on her property. She approached the men and spoke with them. There was a lot of hand movements made by my mother, but the men seemed unphased. My mother returned to the car, the men continued milling about, doing whatever they had been doing before, and we drove in silence down the remainder of the driveway. I don't know what words were exchanged with those men, but I know my mother had failed to chase them away.
When we got out of the car, we all went inside. My mother told me I could not play outside while the men were here, so I played inside with Ashley. Being inside was not unusual for Ashley. She was born with some kind of an ailment that made her extremely sensitive to the sun. My mother had explained to me that "Ashley is allergic to the sun" and even when she was carried from the house to the car she had to be entirely covered from head to toe. This meant she spent most of the time playing indoors because playing out doors isn't as much fun when you have to be completely covered. My mom got on the phone and called my godmother, Lorraine, who we had been renting the property from, and who had promised to sell it to my mother. Again, I don't remember what was said, but I know it was a heated discussion that almost broke my mother.
I had only seen my mother cry a single time in my life to this point. It was the day our dog Snoopy died. I remember, I woke up and walked out into the living room expecting to find my mom making pancakes. But instead, she was sitting on a chair in the kitchen, her hands and pants were dirty and she was sobbing deeply. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me Snoopy died in the night and she just buried him. Of course, then I cried too. But that had been a year or more prior, and I had not seen her cry prior to or since. While my mother did not cry when she hung-up that phone, she certainly looked like she was close. My mother, who I had never seen back-down or lose anything, looked... defeated.
She gathered us into the living room and explained that Lorraine had "sold the house out from under us". I had no idea what that meant, but she then explained that we had two weeks to move-out. Move out? I didn't understand. Why would we ever move out of our home? Who were these men, and how could they chase us off our property?
Some time in the next few days, we were at my sister Claire's house. Claire had (what seemed to me to be) a big beautiful house (it was a town home). She had a big finished basement and a fairly big back yard (not as big as ours) with an in-ground pool. This was the pool where my mom, and sometimes my sister or my nephew, would throw me into the deep-end... My mom and Claire and her husband (Henry) all talked and drank coffee in the dining room while me and Michael and Jenny (Claire's kids, my niece & nephew) all played in the basement. We were having a lot of fun until my mom came downstairs and abruptly said "Come on Tony, it's time to go." We left very hurriedly, which was unusual, because normally my mother would have had long goodbyes with Michael and Jenny even though we didn't live that far away. I could tell my mother was upset. When we got in the car, she explained to us that she had asked Claire and Henry if we could stay with them for a short time while she "got back on her feet", but Claire and Henry said they didn't have enough room. I don't know how they determined they didn't have enough room... Even as a child I knew we could have all stayed comfortably in their basement. But they had turned us away. My own sister had turned away her brother, sister, baby niece and mother. Little did I know I would not see Claire again for a very long time.
The days passed all too quickly, and before I knew it, the day arrived that it was time for us to leave. As a boy, I had a lot of toys. I had He-Man & Thunder Cats action figures, G.I. Joes, and tons of matchbox cars and assorted other toys. The night before we were to leave, my mother gave me a black bag. She told me it was special because it had been a doctor's bag that was used back when doctors made house calls. I remember it was black leather with a slightly bumpy texture. It had a Caduceus imprinted on one side under the handle about the size of a half-dollar, and on the inside in gold-embossed letters were the words "GENUINE LEATHER". I knew right away that this was a very special bag indeed. She told me to pack the toys I wanted to take, in this bag. I tried to tell her that not all my toys would fit into the bag, and she explained that we would be leaving in the car and we would not have enough room for all my toys, so I could only take what fit in the bag.
I spent some time filling that bag, being careful to use every last bit of space. I tried to squeeze smaller toys like Matchbox cars into the gaps between the larger ones. As I write this now, I cannot help but think that this was such a cruel task to ask of a child, knowing that anything not in the bag would be lost forever. But I also know it was necessary and I don't recall ever feeling bad at the time. I am sure I did not understand the finality of it all, but I did do my best to squeeze all I could into that medical bag.
The next morning, my mother and Joan loaded the back of the car. Ashley and I sat in the back seat, they in the front, and we drove away from our home for the very last time. We only took what fit into a Ford Taurus station wagon. No furniture. Everything else, we left exactly as we would if we had only been leaving for a day. But somehow I knew, we would never again see that house. I stared out the window as we drove away, watching my home fall away behind me. As we passed Sammy's house, he and his dad were at the end of their driveway waving goodbye. I cried and I waved back and as our car continued down the road to our uncertain future.