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Return to My Childhood Home
Mary Jo Balistreri


Duluth, Minnesota


His words weave in and out through muted music
from the past: Gramma’s piano, Grandpa’s violin,
Caruso’s tenor on the gramophone, Voice of the Master.
Scratchy red labels spin for hours. We dance
with cousins, laugh with aunts and uncles gathered
at the ‘big house’ on Park Point,
my grandparents’ homestead and my first home.

The present owner, a history teacher, offers a tour
through the house. As he speaks, memory sidles up beside me
into the kitchen, the warmth of the yellow breakfast room untouched.

            A child looks out the window and sees Grandpa bend
            over a hoe, the battered straw hat at a rakish angle
            on his bald head. Later, his hands unwind the twine
            that anchors tomatoes and hollyhocks.
            He likes them climbing together.

            Gramma stands at the chipped stone sink,
            sounds  of water splashing, ping of strawberries
            in the colander. I watch her snitch the ruby fruit,
            pop it in her mouth from the tin pail when she thinks
            I’m not looking.

           Over here by the stairs, the milkman delivers
           small glass bottles, sets them on the trestle table,
           my job to skim the thick cream off the top.
           On the linoleum counter, Gramma stacks homemade
           bread ready to toast and lather with jellies and jams.

When I ask what happened to the outside stairs the owner says,
Too dangerous. I had them removed. Though he continues
to speak…
            my sister and I play dolls on the weathered steps
            while grandma peels potatoes and tells tales of Ireland.
            We eat slices of raw spud, beg for more.

I look for the giant oak where Grandpa hung my tire swing,
where late summer bloomed through an open window. Mounds
of dirt litter the land. That’s where the condos will go. I couldn’t see
all that land going to waste. The house? It’s on the historic register.

© by Mary Jo Balistreri.
Used with the author’s permission.




Mary Jo Balistreri is the author of two poetry books, Joy in the Morning and Gathering the Harvest, plus a chapbook, Best Brothers, published by Tigers’ Eye Press. Mary Jo feels that losing oneself in the process of writing is healing, and that sharing poems, learning about the experiences of others, and the sensibilities and events that move them widens our circle of community. Learn more about her at





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