Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Goodbye, Old Friend

I spent the past weekend in my hometown in the house I grew up in. My parents have lived in that house for 40 years. They moved in when I was 18 months old. It is the only house that I remember. Lots of living has happened in that house. And now, it is about to become another family's home.

I shed tears several times over the weekend, thinking about how I wouldn't be coming "home" to that house again. In fact, sleeping in my old bedroom on Friday night, I cried myself to sleep. I haven't done that since high school--but then the tears were most likely over a boy.

All I could think about as I was willing sleep to come was all of the "lasts" I would experience in my final weekend there: the last time I would sit at my parents' dining room table, the last time I would see our names carved in the insulation on the attic door, the last time I would see my father's basement workshop where he has crafted so many beautiful pieces of furniture, the last time I would sit on the front porch and watch the cars go by, the last time I would sit in my mom's cheery kitchen and chat as she prepared a meal, the last time I would sleep in "my" bedroom.

My parents moved to this house in it's "million dollar location" (as one of their friends always put it--but somehow, they didn't get a million dollars for it when it sold...) in 1969. They had three children (my older brothers and me) and years of work on that old house ahead of them. They stripped tons and tons of woodwork, scraped paint, tore up floors and turned the house into a home.

We laughed over the weekend recalling some of the decorating changes the house has been through: green carpet in the 70's, rust carpet (called "epitome" that the salesman pronounced wrong--rhyming 'tome' with 'home') in the 80's, and finally hardwoods throughout in the last decade and a half; those fabulous brown appliances in the 70's, wallpaper EVERYWHERE, then borders in many places, and after removing most of that, my mother swearing that she will never apply wallpaper or a border in her new home.

The house started out as a four bedroom, one and a half bath home and evolved over the years to become a three bedroom, two and a half bath home with a family room addition. Because of my mom's vision and my dad's carpentry skills, the house has been updated and is beautiful. Beautiful enough that another family wants to live there and make it their home.

As we packed away pictures and photos, I watched the house lose it's "personality." It was morphing from our home into a house--four walls and a roof--that would soon hold another family's possessions and mementos. I was grieving over this old house like a family member. And I guess in some ways, it was.

That old house was our place to come to, our place to be, our place to be together. It was our shelter in the storm, the base for our adventures, the site of our parties. It was as welcoming and warm as an old friend. We knew every nook and cranny, every creak and crack. And it knew us as well--every joy, every grief, and all of our laughter and tears. It encircled our family and was one of the things that molded us into the people we are. If we had lived somewhere else, we would have become different people.

I know that my old house is an inanimate object, but I'd like to thank it all the same. So if you'd just indulge me a bit, I'd be grateful.

Dear Old House,
Thank you for being such a great place to grow up. Your closets and cubbies were fabulous places to play hide'n'seek and to curl up with pillows and a book on a rainy day. Your basement, while nothing fancy, was a good place to play with toys, shoot a basketball in winter, and it provided endless occasions for my brothers to terrorize me with the creepy back room and threats of the "Flushman."

Your kitchen was one of the best places to hang out. Even when it was crowded with a table, five chairs and five (or more) human beings, it was the heart of the house and it was wonderful. We might have groused and jostled a bit and called your kitchen a "one butt kitchen," but it was the place we gathered to decorate Easter eggs, Christmas cookies, and Halloween pumpkins. It's close dimensions drew us closer together.

Your attic was spacious. While it didn't ever get finished like that lucky Greg Brady got to finish his, it held our suitcases and ballet tutus and old furniture and toys safely. It's horrible fiery heat in the summer also caused us to appreciate the fans in our bedrooms and realize that even though we didn't have air conditioning and it was hot in our rooms, it was nothing compared to the attic!

House, you were sturdy and well-built. You withstood rousing games of "Mishy-mishy Moe Toe," jumping off the stairs, wrestling matches, wild dancing and several different sets of dog feet. You creaked, but that was just as well, since it kept us from sneaking out at night. (I guess I should only speak for myself here. My brothers may well have figured out a way to avoid the creaks that I never knew about...) You were solid and reliable, two traits that are valuable in just about anything.

Thank you, House, for being a comforting presence while walking wakeful babies in the middle of the night, crying over stupid boys, or studying for a
monstrous exam. Thank you, House, for offering your space for birthday parties, wedding showers, Christmas Eve gatherings and Easter egg hunts. Thank you, House, for being the backdrop for so many of our family's memories. Thank you, House, for being a silent player in so many of our days, a quiet presence throughout our years.

You will soon belong to someone else, Dear House, but you will always be mine. Please treat the new family as well as you have treated mine. You've been a wonderful home.

I know that my parents' new home will be a good home for them. I know that we will make new memories in that new house. My head knows that ultimately this is a very good thing. My heart is going to take a little convincing. It may take a little while to grieve the loss of my old friend, but I am still looking forward to all the good things that the new house will bring.

And if I don't like the new house, do you think the new owner's of my old house would mind if I camped out in the back yard?

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