There's a dream I have about returning home after a long absence. The trip back evokes feelings of both apprehension and excitement. It occurs to me, I should have called ahead to let everyone know. As I walk up the driveway, I wonder how my parents will look after all these years.

I see the house and its surroundings as a series of snapshots. The hedge along the driveway, once regularly trimmed, has grown into a line of trees, and the lawn, which I mowed as a kid, has turned into an overgrown field. And doesn't the house look neglected! But the oak tree is there and still alive, even if the swing is gone from its lowest branch. I approach the front door and note that paint has peeled and decayed leaves are matted on the steps.

When my knocking brings no response, I suppose they must be off on an errand -- perhaps they went to town. But a glance in the window reveals a dark and empty hallway. The furniture is gone and the silence turns my apprehension to anxiety. Could more time have passed than I remember?

I decide to ask our neighbors -- surely they'll know where my family is -- and cross the field to their house. But when I ring the bell, the door is opened by woman I don't recognize. She regards me warily as I introduce myself. Does she know my family's whereabouts? At first she shakes her head. But then she says that perhaps people of that name lived over there once, but they were gone long before she came. But what about the family who lived here in this house? They went away, too. I mention other names. Everyone has gone, moved elsewhere, far away, years ago.

I walk slowly back to my house, and it's obvious to me now that the place has been abandoned for longer than I'd realized. Not only has the paint peeled, but roof shingles are missing, shutters hang askew, and the bulkhead lid has rotted and collapsed down the cellar stairs. The lilac bushes that reached my parents' second-story bedroom window are mere dead stalks, and the once distant woods have spread over the horse pasture and even encroached on the back lawn -- the lawn where we kids played at running bases, our bare feet skidding in the moist spring grass. What happened? Whose house is it now? Where did everyone go?

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