When I was 12 years old, my parents moved our family from the small, quaint town of Hammonton, New Jersey to the bustling metropolitan area of Miami, Florida. I was the oldest of my four siblings, so I had the most memories of our New Jersey years implanted in my pre-teen brain.
Our home in Hammonton was built early in the 20th century. It was a beautiful two-story modern (for the time) house, with a striking white color, black window frames, and a light grey roof. My great-grandparents had originally lived in the house and then left it to my Dad.
When my parents moved in, they began renovations to expand the modest size home to one that would ultimately accommodate a family of six comfortably. The house almost doubled in size. The basement size also grew immensely, which my Dad turned into a mini-version of a Home Depot—long before there was even such a thing as a Home Depot.
And as my siblings and I grew up in this house, we fell in love with it. We were one of those weird, odd, really strange families where everybody got along, everybody loved each other—I know, crazy, right?—so that house held nothing but warm, loving, nurturing memories.
Mind you, our love of the house wasn’t enough to diminish our excitement about our ‘adventure’ of moving to Florida. But in all the years we have lived in Florida, our love for the Hammonton house never went away. If anything, the folklore of the house only continued to grow as the decades went on.
Libby and Richard Hafter moved to Hammonton a few years before we left, and were living in a small home with their three children. My siblings and I would play with their three kids, and the two adult couples got along very well. When my parents announced they were moving to Florida, they had a conversation with the Hafters, who had always admired our home.
The conversation turned into a trial rental period for the house—for both our family and theirs. For my parents, the trial was to make sure we liked living in Florida and weren’t going to come running back to New Jersey. And for the Hafters, the trial was to see if the house was a “good fit” for their family.
The short story is that we did stay in Florida—and the Hafters did love the house—and my parents turned the rental into a sale. And now my childhood home was owned by a family that would love it as much as we had. And who would ultimately live in the house at least four times as long as I did. Their children have long since moved out, but Libby and Richard continue to live there to this day.
After we moved to Florida, we would go back to New Jersey every year or two to visit extended family. And every time we’d make the trip, we would stop by and visit the Hafters. The memories would always envelop us, as we went room to room, recalling stories and moments from our years in the house. And the Hafters were always gracious and welcoming, excited to share in our excitement of visiting our old house….and them.
As the years wore on, the trips to New Jersey became less frequent. My siblings and I grew up. We went to college. We got our first jobs. We each got married and started our own families. The visits went from every two years to maybe every five years and then to probably every seven years. And the visits were no longer the original six of us making the trip together. Now my parents would go up as a couple, and my siblings and I would either go up individually—perhaps on a business trip—or with our own families.
However, regardless of how often we visited, or who was making the visits, one thing never changed. The Hafters continued to open their doors to us and indulge us as we traipsed through the house like aliens who had never seen the inside of a human’s residence.
My Mom died in 1999 and my Dad died in 2010. Both of them were fortunate to visit the house just a few years before they each passed away. But my siblings and I continue to visit the Hammonton house, now just shy of 50 years since we have lived in it! 50 years! All four of us have made visits there in the last two years. And the Hafters continue to welcome us through the doors to journey into an honest-to-goodness time machine into our childhoods.
My wife and two sons and I made a quick trip to New Jersey last weekend, and my brother was able to join us for the trip. So, yes, we made the pilgrimage to the house. And, yes, the Hafters greeted us again with open arms. And, yes, they still have some of the original furniture from my parents. And, yes, there are still tags with my Dad’s writing on them identifying specific pipes in the basement. As Richard said, “Why change them? We still need to know which pipes are which and your Dad took care of all that for us.” And, yes, there are still some tools and hardware that were my Dad’s from over 50 years ago. When your basement is like a Home Depot, you can’t take everything with you—and he didn’t.
In our visit last weekend, at one point Richard turned to me and said, “See, you can go home again.” And at that moment, I realized how lucky I was that the Hafters had bought our house. And how grateful I was to them for a half century of serving as ambassadors to our memories. And for being such wonderful friends.
My wish for you, dear reader, is that whatever golden and cherished memories you may have from your childhood, that you are able to access them—whether it’s through photos, home movies, a scrapbook, a laugh-filled meal with family, or maybe, just maybe, you have a family like the Hafters who still allow you to visit your memories.