Memory Lane: The Great Estate

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I’m old enough now to wonder whether some of my childhood memories are really memories. I wonder if they’re only dreams.

Once upon a time there was a great estate in our neighborhood, complete with large in-ground swimming pool. Nobody but very rich people had those. There was a huge white house and all sorts of smaller buildings assembled around it, like chicks around the mother hen.

We called it “Oppenheim’s.” It’s possible that this wasn’t really its name, but that’s the name we had for it.

Oppenheim’s was separated from the ordinary homes on Juniper Street by a little stream, a bit of marshland, and just a few yards of spindly woods. I remember one day I managed to get to the opposite bank of the stream for a closer look at Oppenheim’s. One of the older kids started to pick on me, and a man came over from Oppenheim’s and chased him away.

And then one day Oppenheim’s was deserted. Suddenly no one lived there. That was the signal for my friends and me to cross over to the estate and run wild, exploring everything, pretending it was ours. We got into the big house. Oh, so many rooms! I think one was a ballroom. It was sort of like the house in a game of Clue, only without the billiard tables. We kept daring each other to swim in the pool; but summer had passed, and dead leaves increasingly blanketed the water and turned it dark and murky. No one took the dare.

And then the bulldozers came and tore it all down, gorgeous white house, outbuildings, stables, garage, and all. No more Oppenheim’s. In its place, a housing development–three or four blocks’ worth.

Patty and I have searched the Internet for any mention of the Oppenheim estate in our town, circa 1957, but have yet to find a single word about it. It’s like it never was. Like I’d only dreamed about it. Very vivid dreams, but no proof that they were anything but dreams.

A piece of my past is missing; and it’s not the only one. Around here, hardly anything has been left the way I remember it. This can be disconcerting. Much of what I knew is gone.

I wonder–if I dream a little deeper, can I find the way back to Oppenheim’s?

I’d like to thank that guy who chased away the bully.


About leeduigon

I have lived in Metuchen, NJ, all my life. I have been married to my wife Patricia since 1977. I am a former newspaper editor and reporter. I was also the owner-operator of my own small business for several years. I wrote various novels and short stories published during 1980s and 1990s. I am a long-time student of judo and Japanese swordsmanship (kenjutsu). I also play chess, basketball, and military and sports simulations. View all posts by leeduigon

3 responses to “Memory Lane: The Great Estate

  • Unknowable

    Everything in this life is ephemeral. At one time, it was someone’s dream, built to their specification, but now it’s gone.

    A few decades ago, I had to opportunity to visit the estate of the scion of a well known family whom led an industry. I won’t mention the name, but you’d recognize it instantly. This fellow built a house in a remote setting, yet within a mile of a major Interstate highway. If you knew where to look, it was obvious, but if you didn’t know it was there you’d never suspect that it was there. Undoubtedly, the owner of the home could function freely in the town nearby and never be recognized, and that was probably one of the attractions.

    Out in front, within 100 yards of the highway, was a small, unassuming home which looked quite average. It was the gatekeeper’s/caretaker’s home, and manned by a full-time, live-in caretaker. Leading away was a dirt path, just two strips of brown earth worn into the grass, but it led to the main house. It was a study in camouflage.

    But, eventually, the home was sold and all sorts of Mc Mansions have been built nearby. To the best of my knowledge, the main home is still there, but the caretaker’s house was demolished. Encroachment by new development has robbed the setting of its charm and the original owner probably made off for parts unknown when he could see the smoke of construction equipment nearby. 🙂

  • thewhiterabbit2016

    Are any of your buds that explored the place still living? Contact one and ask them to confirm the experience.

    I grew up in the midst of orange groves – that’s why they called it Orange County. Slowly all the groves disappeared except a small one on the other side of our backyard metal fence. When I finally left California the owner died and his heirs immediately sold it, and a residential street was built in its place. When I returned to California to visit, I walked the sidewalk of the new residential area but it was nothing like walking among the orange trees on one of my shortcuts to a friend’s house.

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