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Disappearing Footsteps

The nuisance of frenetic footsteps will one day disappear. Listening to the house-rattling sounds, Serena and Mitchell find meaning in the mundane. An inspirational take on the hidden meanings behind everyday actions.

The pounding of feet made the house shiver in response, and then silence returned as swiftly as it had all begun. Picking up again, the footsteps increased in intensity and covered the length of the house. Quiet once more. Now running, then stillness. And for good measure, the footsteps provided one last encore.

It sounded like an overused trope to introduce a horror story. But no, this was not a horror story. The footsteps were altogether real and not some paranormal force. The footsteps were those of teenagers, two precisely, though whether they were through the concerted effort of only one or both was indeterminate.

Maybe this was the beginning of a horror story after all, Serena mused. Parenting teenagers is a genre unto itself.

“What in the world is going on up there?” Serena asked. She was currently in the basement with her husband Mitchell, and their conversation stalled mid-sentence when the apparent hunting expedition upstairs started.

“I don’t know. To be honest, do we even really want to know?” Mitchell replied.

“Good point. I’m going to savor our time down here. I’m sure we’ll find out later.”

Dinner had already been devoured, and quickly, by their two teenagers. After getting a few piecemeal details on their day, the self-absorbed teenagers made the climb back to their rooms, leaving Serena and Mitchell alone at the table. Looking at each other, they communicated without a word. Mitchell took their plates to the kitchen sink while Serena popped open a bottle of wine and they went downstairs to the basement.

“Have you ever stopped to think about footsteps?” Serena asked.

“What do you mean?” Mitchell replied.

“How they change over time.”

“Not really, but I’m sure you’re going to explain.”

“First, it’s the unsteady, wobbly steps of a baby that’s not a baby anymore. Then come the footsteps of a toddler, which transition into tender yet fast, very fast, footsteps. Childhood arrives and they become measured, sure of themselves. Until the teenage years come, and it’s frenetic. Everything at once or nothing at all,” Serena explained.

“I suppose that’s true. Never thought of it that way.”

“But here’s the crux of it. Soon those footsteps will disappear, and we won’t hear them anymore. Because the footsteps in this house will have migrated to a new place, their new life, their new home. It won’t be long before these crazy, quasi-emotional footsteps, mirroring everything that being a teenager embodies—come to an end.”

Mitchell was silent, considering Serena’s words thoughtfully. He nodded and took a sip. “That’s the circle of life.”

“And altogether heart-wrenching that our success as parents leads to more silence. I mean sure there will be holidays, but it will never be the same. Ever again,” Serena said.

“All I can say is that we should enjoy every moment. Even the ones that we don’t think are memorable.”

As if on cue, more timber shaking sounds spread throughout the house.

“Like this one right here?” Serena remarked.

“Absolutely,” Mitchell said.

“You know our footsteps will change too. They’ll get slower and decrease in number, until one day we’re doing the elderly shuffle step.”

“And I’ll love you even then. As long as you’re by my side, it’s a life well-lived,” Mitchell said as he leaned over to give her a kiss, and they clinked their glasses in cheers.



Known as the Swan House, this former home to the Inman family is now part of The Atlanta History Center.

On the National Register of Historic Places, Edward and Emily Inman moved into the house in 1928. Unfortunately, three years later Edward passed away. After his passing, Emily asked her oldest son, his wife, and their two young children to live with her. Her grandchildren lived with her until they were married, and Emily lived in the house until her death in 1965.

Elizabeth "Lizzie" McDuffie, an African-American, earned a bachelor's degree but was faced with limited employment opportunities due to racial discrimination. She worked for the Inmans for decades as a maid. In 1933 she left to work at the White House as a third-floor maid during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's term. She developed a friendship with President Roosevelt, and was one of only two domestic staff members to have free access to his bedroom. Ms. McDuffie leveraged her friendship with the President to advance racial equity, and acted as a an unofficial "back channel" for Black leaders, as they were barred from normal channels. Her advocacy and efforts made her an important voice in the fight for civil rights.

Read more about the Swan House here.

Read more about Elizabeth "Lizzie" McDuffie here.

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