The smell of the smoke has drifted since the last time I was here.
When I close my eyes, I can see myself – five years old and skipping up the front steps. My Christmas dress flounced under my grandmother’s deep red coat. The frills itched my knees, but Mams smiled when she saw me enter the kitchen.
“The Barge is here!” Mammy announced, and the glint in her eye directed me to the spot on the bench next to her chair, her throne, her position at the head of the table. “The Barge,” she called me, but she was the first. She did it the best.
Seamus took our coats to the closet, embraced our grandmother, and kissed her forehead. “And there’s my sweetest boy,” she said.
One family celebrated Christmas that night: three generations of love. Grandkids cooed over our grandmother’s unending traditions. Cousins called in from fantastic, far-away states.
Laughter bellowed out of the windows. Glitter twinkled on the front lawn.
“The reindeer will see it,” Mams whispered to me. “It’ll tell them this is where the good kids are.”
Magic glowed from her smile.
When I open my eyes, there’s a flash. The sirens are back and the smoke is bellowing from the windows. The glitter doesn’t cover the snow anymore; it’s soot.
In my dreams that night, we knock the whole thing down.
Mams used to say, “when I go, I’m taking this house with me,” so let’s give it to her. She can take it to Heaven and rebuild the house with Pop-Pop and Joseph. Start over. Start from the beginning.
We knock the whole thing down and level the dirt. Some of the neighborhood kids turn the empty lot into their new baseball field. I can hear Pop-Pop commentating beside Harry Kalas.
Mams is happy. Pop-Pop is happy. They never did stop loving.
When those neighborhood kids grow older, they use their baseball field as the background for their first sips of beer. They don’t know it, but years and years ago, in the basement that used to rest in that lot, dozens and dozens of their parents were sipping on beer for the first time, too.
There are flowers on the charred front porch when I return again: orchids and red buds in a beautiful bouquet that offsets the tragedy of the surrounding black ash. I am reminded: we are strong, and we will rise again.
A new front porch greets me next, and a three-car garage, decadent pillars, a lawn flag that does not resemble my family name.
This is not the legacy Mams left for us.
Her legacy does not include the white-washed real estate, nor does it include the fire trucks and newscasters. She will not be remembered for the way in which she left us. She will not be remembered for the disappointment built in her place.
Mams has a stronger legacy than that: seven kids, thirty grandkids, and a house bursting at the seams with laughter and love.
We’ll remember her snappy wit, her storytelling, her mystery-loving creativity. We’ll remember her patriotism, her family pride, and all of the holidays spent on the wooden kitchen benches.