The time has come. I wouldn’t call it a bittersweet moment, because it’s more powerful than that. It is kind of like having an overwhelming feeling of relief simultaneously with a panic attack. It’s what we hoped for, but some part of us hoped it would never happen. I’m talking about the sale of our childhood home.
I blogged about what this property meant to my family here. I posted that in May 2011, when we knew Mama would never go back to her house and live by herself and the only thing to do was to clean the old house up and put it on the market. That was an intellectual decision, made partly because it was logical and partly because it was the only alternative and we had no choice.
Now this week our beloved house will change hands. It will be official. That yard where we played softball would be someone else’s yard. They will not know of the mimosa tree that our cousins climbed when it was in the front yard. They will not know of Mrs. Ditto whose property was adjacent to ours out back, who would stand at the fence and share her fresh figs. They won’t know of the clothesline where we hung sheets and blankets to make tents. They won’t know of all the memories we collectively experienced in that house and in those yards from 1954 on.
Of course, I’ve lived in several other houses since then after I left there to get married in 1974. Our first house was a 1920s bungalow. It had a rich history, and people lived there before us and people came after us. It was our house for 12 years. From there, Ed went into the ministry and we moved from parsonage to parsonage. Obviously, they weren’t our houses - they were houses owned by the various churches where their pastor lived for the duration of their appointments.
When Ed retired from the ministry, we moved to Maine to our large Victorian in Ellsworth. Again, people had lived there before us, left their mark on the house, we lived there and left our mark, and then we sold it to people who will leave their mark.
This is one of many reasons why my childhood home is special. We are the only family who ever lived there. My parents bought it around the time they were expecting me. The house and I have grown up together - and we are showing the same signs of wear, believe me. In today’s mobile society, it sounds quaint to be born into one house and live there until you get married. (I went to one school 1st grade through 12th, too!) Such stability is almost unheard of nowadays. I wish we could have given our kids that same feeling of home in one place.
But of course, it’s the memories that give me a catch in my throat the most. It’s where I was loved unconditionally, and especially where I most remember Daddy (there and seeing him in church). It’s like giving up a piece of him to sell the house he was so proud of - the house where he established and nurtured the stable, happy family he never had when he was young.
Last week I was driving home from work and had to stop quite suddenly at a yellow light. Without thinking, I reflexively stretched out my right arm over in front of the passenger seat. Then I laughed. Daddy used to do that. Before the advent of seat belts, at any point when he had to brake suddenly, he always threw his arm across whoever was sitting beside him so they wouldn’t careen into the dashboard. After we got our first used car with newfangled seat belts, Daddy still did the same movement, as it was such an ingrained habit. Now, in 2013, alone in the car, here I was throwing out my right arm to protect...nobody.
Then I realized that our precious house is just a building - a special building, but bricks and wood and all the rest. The memories - the most important things - are in my heart. Selling the house doesn’t diminish our experiences there, especially of Daddy - because memories of Daddy and everyone else live in my heart where I can access them whenever I wish - whether in a photo in a scrapbook or at a red light in Ellsworth, Maine.
So, go your way, my beloved house. You’ll always be a part of our family, and a part of me. I won’t remember you with rotting wood and outdated electricity and peeling paint. I will remember you as a loving shelter, your yards with a mimosa tree and clothesline tent and open air “club house.” I’ll remember you with the shiny wood floors we helped Mama polish, the table set for 4, the birthday parties, the naps on lazy summer afternoons, the excitement of getting the Christmas decorations down the creaky attic stairs. I’ll remember your tastes of York apples, frozen bananas dipped in sugar, cornbread dressing, and half gallons of ice milk. I’ll remember your sounds of an upright piano, unending laughter, the movie projector, the dice and chatter at Mama’s bunco parties, the Monkees playing on a record player, our excited conversation for Daddy’s reel-to-reel recorder. I’ll remember your embrace as we watched home movies, saw Daddy engrossed in his stamp collection, had the extended family over at Christmas and Thanksgiving. I’ll remember you when I think of packing the car, leaving for vacation. I’ll remember the TSA meetings and the play we wrote and acted out, Thanksgiving services held in the den. I’ll remember Catland Caverns, Mike, the bluejay, the rooster, and all the rest of our pets you tolerated for our pleasure. Oh, no, house. Don’t worry. I won’t forget you. You’re in my heart and there you’ll stay. Thanks for the memories.