408 Casa Loma, Cedar City Utah. It’s been at least a decade since this was my home address, and I’ve lived in several homes since then, but this address is by far the easiest one for me to remember. I used to recite it in a sing song voice. 408 Casa Loma, Cedar City Utah! It had a nice ring to it. Casa Loma in Spanish means “hill house” and as it so happens our house was on top of a hill with a million dollar view overlooking the small yet charming city and a mountainous backdrop stretching majestically toward the sky. It looked like something out of a fairy tale.
The house itself wasn’t nearly as grand as the view. My five siblings and I shared two rooms. Girls in one room. Boys in the other. The unfinished basement became our playroom. We spent many afternoons down there, building wooden block castles and engaging in stuffed animal wars. Graffiti that said, “I HATE CLEANING!” was written in dark angry letters in the corner behind the door by a tiny vandal whom I shall not name. Our family of seven shared two bathrooms, one of which held a dog door where our big black poodle, Belle, could interrupt private time on the toilet at any moment. Yes, our home was a modest one, but we were happy.
Our neighbors to the right were called the Johnsons, a kind elderly couple with a great big fireplace made of igneous rocks where small toy animals could be found hiding in the cracks. To the left of us was a rich family with a big fancy house. Sometimes they paid us to watch their dogs while they were away. Their daughter Jerika always wanted to play with me even though she was closer to my siblings’ age and I was too old and sophisticated to be bothered with her nonsense. She even had the nerve to call me “honey” or “hon” on occasion despite the fact I was 3 years her elder!
Across the street lived the Hershibodens who were without a doubt the most intriguing neighbors on our street. They the non-Mormons living in our Mormon dominated community. Mrs. Hershiboden had long blond hair worn in a ponytail hanging down past her waist. I never saw much of Mr. Hershiboden, but I was told he flew helicopters and fought fires. They both seemed intimidating with their sunglasses and two gigantic wolf dogs for pets, but once we got to know them they turned out to be my favorite neighbors. They called me “Cinder Heather” because apparently my parents worked me too hard. They also knew a lot about horses.
The Palmers, who lived directly behind us in a little blue house, always gave away cereal boxes instead of candy for Halloween. But despite their disappointing trick or treat gifts we liked the Palmers. They were lovely people. Birds flocked to their bird feeder the way kids flock to the school cafeteria on pizza day. Mr. Palmer took great pride in his garden, and made our garden look like a collection of weeds in comparison. One unexpected day Mr. Palmer died of a heart attack. I think perhaps he was the very first person I ever knew to die. Mrs. Palmer lived alone in that little blue house after that.
A few Christmases ago I took my husband and father in law to see my old neighborhood. On the exterior it looks as though nothing has changed. The street looks the same. The trees look the same. Even the houses look the same. I'm sure the same cannot be said for the interior of each house, for which I am glad I cannot see. I don’t want to know about any changes. A lot can happen in 10 years. The Johnsons have likely passed away. Mrs. Palmer may have moved in with her son or perhaps even a nursing home. Jerika is likely about to graduate from college. The Hershibodens may still live in that house across the street, but their wolf dogs are surely dead by now. It makes me sad to think of all these things. I just want Casa Loma to forever be as it is fixed in my memory. A place where Mrs. Palmer hands out cereal for Halloween, the Hershiboden’s take their wolf dogs on afternoon walks, Jerika jumps on her backyard trampoline, and the Johnson’s sit cozily by their fireplace on cold winter evenings. This is the Casa Loma from my childhood.