#11 Driving through your old neighborhood and stopping to see the house you grew up in

When my friends Chris, Ty, and I went on our cross-country road trip a few years back, we managed to stop in the small, hardscrabble dirt town of Paris, Texas.

In addition to visiting the Kimberly-Clark diaper factory, miniature Eiffel Tower, and famous Jesus in Cowboy Boots statue, Ty insisted we drive through his old neighborhood to see his old home.

Pulling down curbless sidestreets on our way out of town, Ty was already in that cloudy nostalgic dream before we even got to the place. “Sure is a lot shadier than I remember it,” he commented quietly. “Trees a lot bigger.”

We pulled up to Ty’s old house and his eyes popped as his brain flash-flooded with piles of distant memories rushing back all at once. He got out of the car and started walking around the yard, slowly taking it all in.

Because even though it was just a nailed-together stack of wood, bricks, and shingles to us, for Ty it was so much more. And, you know, there is something profound about driving through your old neighborhood and visiting an old home.

Depending on the time and place, you might notice some strange things.

Maybe you wonder if the new family discovered the side fence door made a perfect backstop for pitching practice. Do they know if you hit a chalk-square between the outermost boards the tennis ball almost always bounces back to you?

Maybe you notice somebody trimmed the old, jaggedly sharp evergreen with the tiny, rock-hard berries on it, which was always the best spot for Hide and Seek and the perfect burial ground for He Man action figures when you moved on to Transformers. You remember the soft needles jabbing your forearms and dirt sticking to your elbows when you were down there at dusk, and you remember it was worth it.

If you’re bold enough to ring the doorbell or take a quick peek in the backyard, you might see a new glass door replacing the rusty screen one that always slammed and had that thin sliding metal lock that never lined up properly. Or maybe you notice the same wobbly patio stones that remind you of birthday parties spent eating hot dogs and playing Frozen Tag in bare feet on the dandelions and crabgrass. Photos flash and flip through your brain: sun setting over the fence, everyone licking frosty popsicles, mosquitoes coming out and buzzing in your ears.

Oil stains from dad’s truck still dot the driveway and the little handprints you made in the corner of the sidewalk still sit there. And you wonder: Does the dog next door still bark when someone jumps in the pool?  Do they still leave the Christmas lights on until January? Do the kids dunk on the basketball net off the hood of the car?

But whatever you wonder, whatever you see, it sure is a sweet head-trip driving down those old roads leading to the home you grew up in. You smile and remember summer nights, holidays with your cousins, and couch cushion forts on Saturday mornings. Maybe you’re lucky and your old home is close by or maybe it’s torn down or far away, but if you haven’t done it in a while and can still pull it off, take that sweet Sunday cruise down memory lane.


The Book of (Even More) Awesome is now out in paperback!

Photos from: here, here, and here

48 thoughts on “#11 Driving through your old neighborhood and stopping to see the house you grew up in

  1. I remember reading and loving this one in one of the Books of Awesome! My parents actually still live in the house where I grew up, but I’ve experienced being with them or friends and visiting a previous place of residence. It’s so fun and interesting to listen to their stories and hear them talk about how things have changed and what it was like when they were there. Reminiscing … awesome :)

    1. Nothing has really changed in my old town. The house that I wouldn’t go to on Halloween cut their trees down, so its not so scary now, a few houses burned down and there’s now a stop sign where there never was one. Other than that its all the same. Same stores, same people walking through town, same great feeling.

    2. Same here. My parents bought our home while pregnant with my older brother over almost 40yrs ago. I always envied other kids who got to move around but now I’m thankful for so much stability during my childhood and my mom always let’s us know that we always have a place to come home to if/when things get rough…gosh I’m awfully sappy today.

  2. Beautiful… Absolutely beautiful description Neil! There really is nothing like that nostalgic trip down memory lane. Reading this post, images of my old house were flashing in my mind as if I really were there. I am definitely encouraged to go visit my old neighborhood ASAP!
    Oh my God, 1000awesomethings are going to finish! What shall we do?
    On the bright side though, I’ve read that the last post will be on April 1st, aka my birthday! post #1 will be the best present for me! :-)

  3. About ten years after I left home I went back for a childhood friend’s wedding. Strangely, she and her fiancé had bought the house. Someone had owned it between their purchase and when my father sold it. As we were driving by a few people were going in and I recognized one as her now husband. We stopped and jumped out and asked if we might see inside. They had painted and peeled off the wallpaper, but it was the same place I grew up in. Strangely, on the back porch were a couple of wrought iron and wicker bar stools and I asked where they had come from. He told me they had found them buried way in the back in the space under the back porch and asked why. I told him that my mother had thrown them out 20 years before – my Dad was famous for “rescuing” things from the trash. What was amazing was that they had survived an owner in between!

  4. Love it. So many memories from just thinking about it now…
    The time my friend and I caught boys skinny dipping in the billabong past our backyard fence…Climbing trees and eating mulberries… Getting bitten by that stupid Galah we used to have – wretched thing wouldn’t even let go when I was shaking it off my foot! Playing balloon tennis with Mum in the hallway… Being able to hear my friends call over to me from across the road to come and and play… Watching Little Bear and eating raisin toast… That stupid sausage dog named Bart who used to run and bark at us… The time I hid behind the car in the carport and cut my own fringe (bangs)… The list goes on!

  5. AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME!!!!! Lol I LOVE this one! Hahaha I make my parents drive past our old house and neighbourhood all the time because I miss it soo much haha :) Your blog rocks!

  6. Hi Neil,
    I was at your talk today at the University of Waterloo and so decided to check out your blog. The session was excellent! It reminded me of the many reasons I actually like coming to work! The “awesome” I wrote on my little card was “An enormous Chocolate Easter Bunny” – which my boss brings into work. It certainly is awesome!
    And Awesome #11 here is very timely – I was in Oakville two weeks ago and drove by the two places where I used to live and took a bunch of pictures to show my mom :-)
    Thanks again – it looks like you’ve shown (or reminded) a lot of people how to enjoy the little things that make live worth living!

  7. I love your books, Neil, I’ve watched your TED talk and I check your blog daily. I have to say that this is one of my favorite posts and one of the best-written. Thank you, and AWESOME!

  8. LOL Neil you are a blessing for my whole family Everyday I Login On Account just for the sake of reading your newest update,You are seriously doing an awesome thing,,,,,,,,KUDOS!!

  9. Sadly I can’t go visit my old house. It was removed to make a park in my town. Even most of my trees are gone. All I have are my memories.

    1. That’s actually not such a bad thing. It can be disappointing to visit your old home and see that it’s changed drastically. It’s an odd, disorienting feeling to look at the house where I spent my entire childhood and hardly recognize it because the landscaping has changed and it’s a different color. It’s like looking at someone who’s always had a beard but suddenly shaves it off. Who ARE you? you wonder. But in your memory, that house will always be as it was when you lived there. There’s something special about that.

  10. Every time I go to visit mom, I get all these memories flooded back. I’ll just be driving and look over and see a house one of my ex boyfriends lived in or the house that caught fire one summer, or our old swimming/fishing hole. This happened to me Sunday when I went for a visit. I drove past our old camping spot, where we use to stand and throw rocks and try to hit a fence, a gate we all use to play on, all of the schools I went to and the big rock where we use to hang out. It brought me back to being a little kid again. Back when I didn’t have to take care of my brothers and my mom. Back when I could actually play and enjoy it.

  11. Ah, nostalgia… the stuff of pansies everywhere!
    Seriously, while it is nice to “look back” every once in a while, we haven’t spent enough time as a species looking to the future and the challenges that lay ahead.
    But I know this a light-heated forum, so I’ll save my speeches for my own blog!

  12. I did this last summer when I was in my old hometown for my High School reunion… I stayed at Lisa’s house for the weekend and without even asking she knew that the first thing we needed to do was drive down Melody Lane for a peek at #851. Then we went to the Milky Way for a fried tenderloin sandwich and a cherry coke. The memories of my old home town are so rich and complete. Love that place and all of the people still there and not there. As the song goes: “Oh hail to dear old Frankfort!”

  13. Your description is fabulous, Neil! I recently moved back to my hometown, so I can drive past one of my old neighborhoods frequently. My first childhood home was torn down years ago to make way for a supermarket, but my second is still there. In fact, one of my best childhood friends who’s searching for a home recently pointed out that my old home is listed on an online real estate forum. I was able to look through the online pics of the house today and it’s sooo different…it’s been completely remodeled inside! It would be amazingly cool if my friend buys it! It had a cool half-roof outside my bedroom and I could crawl out my bedroom window and sit on the roof on a lovely summer day…ahhhhh. :)

  14. Aw chiz. 11. DX. But your description was SPOT ON. Love it!!!!!!! Even though I’ve never moved…

  15. Love this one! One afternoon at my parents’ house we had a knock on the door and there was a woman in her 80s with her grown children asking to look around the house. Turns out she was born IN the house and grew up there in the ’30s. She told us stories of scrubbing the stairs, no heat on the second floor, bushels of apples in the cellar and serving food to out-of-work drifters in the Depression. They told us they had driven around the block several times before getting the nerve to knock – and I’m so glad they did. It was a great way to spend an afternoon. Still get a Christmas card from her every year!

    1. Reminds me of something I did in Vancouver with my kids and the people welcomed us all in; even remembered me as “the baby!” Your story is also so similar to, “The Heart is a lonely Hunter”…as well as a wagon ride we took with a 102 year old woman, jut a few years ago…passengers from 3-50, hanging on her every word. Best of all she said, “And, I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” Awesome!

  16. Awesome post. I am lucky I got my schooling, College and Job in 50 Km radius of my home. Yet I know the feeling. Whenever I goes back to home I realizes kids are growing up, Landscape is changing, Old are getting older.

  17. Beautiful post. I remember driving by my old house… I was also shocked by how the trees seemed like they were much bigger, and the fences much taller. Would you ever knock on the door and chat with the people living there now?

  18. I once visited the house I was born (I was three when we moved away) with my dad and my mom. They got in contact with the new owners and made an appointment with them.

    My dad was amazed when he arrived, everything looked exactly the same; motorcycle on the porch, cat at the window, two children playing in the street. The things my dad made (he made a closet in on of the rooms) were still there and nothing else had changed that much. It was a really small two story house, small garden and near a railroad.

    It was awesome to see how my dad’s eyes lit up when we arrived and he saw this.

  19. What really resonated with me is that both of my parents are gone now. Seing the first house they ever bought was very emotional – I was born there, they built their first 10 years of their new life in Canada in that house. It’s still there…not much has changed. With the advent of Google Earth I can see it whenever I want…but…maybe I will have the courage to ring the door bell!

  20. Aha! that post mane me smile! Whenever we go into any of our old cities, we drive by the house we lived in to se all the changes and bring back memories. It’s truly AWESOME! :D

  21. Hi Neil,
    You’ve brought me joy every day for 1000 days. You’ve been with me through amazing things and awful things. You helped me get through a very difficult time in my life, and you helped me see that abandoning a lifelong dream was not a loss, but an opportunity to find a new, bigger, better dream. You only have to look at the comments on your blog and your book sales to know that this is true for a LOT of people.

    I’ve wondered for a long time what would happen when you got to #1. Last week when I realized this blog would end I knew I’d cry after #1. I didn’t expect to cry after #2 — tomorrow’s going to be rough.

    My very best wishes for whatever new, bigger, better dream you are chasing next. Without doubt, it will be awesome.

  22. This is why I love Google Streetview. I just went back to my old neighbourhoods and saw all the (somewhat) recent changes made to the houses of my childhood, and my friends.

  23. What an awesome book! I grew up so many places, it’s hard to pinpoint “home.” To those who have these warm fuzzy memories of whereyou grew up, cherish them.

  24. awesome memories!!when u went back to ur old neighbourhoods and still thinking how does ur neighbours look alike and what about that beautiful young lady and the old man is he dead?or the most important did anyone missed u like u did!!did anyone still remmember u or wonder about u like u do !!

  25. I went to my old house with my boyfriend sometimes, but we broke up three days ago. Though the feeling is awesome, the memory hurts a lot.

    1. Brutal. Yeah being human sucks. It must be good to reminisce despite the hurt… But when you look back after a time I’m sure it’ll be easier.

      The memory might stay with you and the hurt that trails along with that memory may give out that rather annoying “pang” when you do, but fortunately the hurt will fade and the memory might sometime too. Thank FLIP the good news is you’re not alone and these feelings will pass as your life goes on and you find yourself busy with better things to worry about. :)

      Hope you’re okay.

      Stupid time making stupid break-up-getting-overings seem like forever.

  26. This post is great! I visited the house were I grew up about 5 years ago. Although they had rebuilt the whole neighborhood, it still was an awesome feeling. Luckily some of the same buildings and stores were still there. Like the 7-11, CVS, and Safeway that my mom would let me and my sister walk to even though we were like 7 and 10. The Safeway is a different supermarket now but it was still nice to remember the memories there. I’ll never forget how we used to see who could collect the most coupons from those black coupon dispenser things haha. Thanks for this awesome post Neil!

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