First, I saw the photo. Why, I wondered, was my youngest sister texting a picture of a yellow Kobelco excavator perched on a mountain of dirt and splintered wood?
I read her message and felt my own patch of earth shift: "Saying good-bye to 1225."
Our childhood home. Gone.
About two weeks later, a friend in my hometown, Ashtabula, which sits on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie, sent me another photo of the demolition. This time, the entire property was a brown slather of mud between two fences I didn't recognize. In the distance, I thought I made out the stump of the giant apple tree in our backyard. When we were kids, we climbed it every fall to pick apples for Mom's pies, which she made from scratch.
I swiped my fingers on the phone screen, enlarging sections of the picture to get a closer view. A metal construction fence was where Mom's bird feeder used to be. She would stand on her step stool in front of the kitchen window and name every bird, by sight on the feeder and by song in the trees.
I'm glad my mother's not here to see this. My father felt no attachment to the last house he had to rent before he could own, but it was a touchstone for my mother. For nearly two decades, she raised her family in that three-bedroom home. Her oldest friends came from that neighborhood, and long after she'd moved across town, she sang in the choir of the Presbyterian church down the road.
I had to know, somewhere in that locked-away place in my mind, that this day would come. In the spring of 2011, I was back home visiting my sisters and drove by our old house on the way out of town. No one had warned me that it was empty and boarded up, and I was caught off guard by how much that bothered me, as if a part of me had been shuttered, too. Those walls knew my stories, the good ones and the bad. There was plenty of both, which makes me about as unusual as a sea gull in the sand.
That spring, I wrote an essay about our empty house for Parade magazine. That's what writers do when we're trying to figure out what to make of things. I described walking onto the porch to where the floorboards dipped at the spot where our feet skidded every time we pumped the swing. The screen door was long gone, but I could still hear it slamming as we ran out of the house and into the adventures of our working-class lives.
I've been thinking of our demolished house in recent days, but for a different reason. On Tuesday, a nurse in the Cleveland area tweeted: "We spent a crazy amount of hours trying to find emergency shelter for a mom and her baby today. She works for IRS and was being evicted today. All shelters are full. So very sad."
This story — or a version of it — is the new narrative of so many lives affected by Donald Trump's government shutdown. People are running out of money and out of time as the entire country waits for him to stop punishing innocent people for his immoral cause of that border wall. This shutdown is affecting more than those who work for the federal government. Millions of families who depend on help from the government to pay rent and feed their children are increasingly at risk, too. Anxiety and fear have a way of hollowing out a person, one hungry child at a time.
How many have already lost their homes? How many children in this country, before and after the shutdown, will never know the anchoring narrative of a childhood home? It's one thing to move a lot for your parents' careers. It's quite another to have to flee. So many people have never known the luxury of the same address for months, let alone years.
My childhood home is gone, but this is no loss to me. I know every foot of that floor plan; I still visit it in my dreams. I walk into the kitchen and see something cooking on the stove. And there's Mom, standing on her step stool at the kitchen window, smiling as she turns to say hello.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.