Friday, January 6, 2012
Saying Goodbye to a House: What Homemade Really Means
So many changes have occurred here over the last year--some of them joyous, some kind of bittersweet, some blatantly sad. My first child graduated from high school and bravely headed off to college. My sweet old dad passed away in September, as did my extraordinary mother-in-law on Christmas day (a loss we are still trying to absorb). And, I packed up and sold the home that I grew up in and that my parents occupied for over 50 years. That last event hasn't quite been completed . . . the sale closes next week.
As the closing approaches, I find it more and more difficult to think objectively about the house. Not that one ever really feels dispassionate about the house in which they grew up, nor should they. Despite the fact that it's essentially empty now, the place seems more full to me than it did a couple of months ago when it was still stocked with the belongings of over five decades. It's as if the multitude of memories produced there are all suddenly hovering in the air. Everywhere I turn, a memory appears.
There's the rustic workbench in the basement that my father built when I was little, where he would often spend a leisurely weekend afternoon. He'd be down there, tinkering with this or that while listening to the Detroit Tigers on the radio, or maybe to a live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. I can picture him leaning against the bench with a distant and relaxed smile, enjoying the music, a golden glass of beer in one hand and a Lucky Strike cigarette smoldering in an ashtray nearby. That workbench is staying with the house, where it belongs. I'm pleased the new owners want to keep it.
And the kitchen, oh the kitchen. It was always the place where I would check first if I was looking for my mom. An awful lot of baked goods originated from that room, along with a lot of silliness and laughter. We had a cumbersome wooden-topped dishwasher, purchased the year I was born, that you had to push/pull over to the sink and hook up to the faucet like a fire-hose to a hydrant. It weighed a ton. I recall moving it into place with my mom in the evening after dinner (no way could a kid do it alone), and then in the morning we'd unhook it, shove it back into its cubby hole, and put away the clean dishes. Occasionally the monstrous thing would get stuck halfway through its journey (a journey of maybe four feet) and we'd have to wrestle it into place, giggling together at the absurdity of the whole scenario. There was cause to rejoice once that dishwasher was replaced with a built-in model when I was about thirteen.
And there was the tiny shelf--a secret hiding place of sorts--built oddly into the sequestered corner of a clothes shoot (remember those?) where my sister and I would often hide a small doll or stuffed animal while playing. When I asked her a few days ago if she wanted me to say anything to the house for her (she lives far away), she specifically instructed me to say goodbye to that special hiding place. Tomorrow, I will do so.
Even the impractically small garage draws me in. As empty now as the house, it used to guard bicycles and badminton rackets, tether ball poles (remember those, too?), rotary lawn mowers, and metal watering cans. I can still see my brother's blue Schwinn bicycle, the one with high handlebars and a long "banana" seat. When I was six years old, I thought he was the coolest twelve-year old on the block speeding along on that thing.
Are the objects the memories?
Those people who are professional organizers say that, in trying to sort and discard the material flotsam and jetsam of life, you should repeatedly remind yourself that the objects themselves are not the memories. "The objects are not the memories!" I keep saying that to myself these days and I know it's definitely true, but it takes a while to convince yourself of that. Thank heaven we get to carry the memories away with us for safe keeping and don't have to leave them behind or pack them into storage.
It's the memories more than anything else that are, after all, quintessentially "homemade."
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