Recently, my father in law got remarried. This is a welcome development for everyone involved. We love his new wife, and the happy couple are busy doing newlywed things and being in love. My father in law took incredible care of my mother in law while she was sick. He was completely devoted to her, forsaking any other claim on his time to care for her. His loyalty to her was unconditional and he was with her every step of her journey with cancer, ultimately ending in her death a couple years ago. So, his new-found happiness is truly a blessing in our family.
The wedding took place this past summer on a steamy late August day. However, being “home” this time had me and my husband out of sorts. First of all, there was a huge “for sale” sign in front of the house. It felt odd, like we didn’t belong there anymore. Like this was no longer home for any of us. Despite the happy occasion, it wound up being unexpectedly sad to be there. It really made me think about what makes a house a home. Is it the time your Dad screamed at you at the kitchen table for getting a ding in the car? Is it the time you made brownies with grandma? Is it the first bath you gave your newborn baby in the kitchen sink? It turns out it’s all of this, and more.
Once we realized this would be our last time in the house, all of a sudden, everything was infused with meaning. There were paintings hanging on the wall that suddenly became visible after years of walking by them on the way to go to bed or run out to dinner with the family. Plates and tzchotchkes that adorned the shelves were relegated to “take what you want!” status from my father in law. These objects served as the background of my husband’s childhood home, much as the stage does for a play. But in this would-be theater, all the props are going away. The time had come for the play to close. All the scenery, gone. Virtually the entire house would either be given away or thrown in the trash. The thought of this is jarring to say the least, but even more so considering my 46 year old husband has thought of this as home since he was 5. It felt disrespectful. It hurt.
Prior to leaving, my husband, his brother and each of our families tormented ourselves over what to take. It had to fit in our bags. If we wanted it shipped, it had to be worth the cost. How do you take a lifetime and put it in a carry-on bag?
In the end, we wound up taking a few very special items. My husband’s bar mitzvah photo album. His stamp collection. Lots of photographs. Some jewelry. But, now that the house is sold, I keep remembering things from the house. I will sit up in bed and think about a ring my mother in law wore. My father in law’s fencing mask. The huge marble covered dresser that they let us borrow for our first apartment. The record collection. These things are now scattered around, detritus of a life no longer shared. Of four people no longer under the same roof. That shit is just plain sad.
So now I look around my house. I try to see it from the eyes of my own kids. They will grow and one day leave this beloved dwelling. Will they remember how they helped make gingerbread in this kitchen every Christmas? Will they remember painting their rooms? Do they notice the photos we have hanging? Will it hurt when the for sale sign is dug into the ground? Only time will tell.
But I know this much to be true. This house, my home, is more to me than bricks and walls. She has kept my loud cursing silent to the outside world, and she has gently held my whispers. She has swelled to welcome visitors and she has held us tight when it is just us four. She keeps us warm and dry through the storms and gives light on dark days. She has welcomed two babies and been steady through diapers, flus, tears and the inevitable Sharpie on the walls. She has borne witness to it all and remains strong for all of us. She holds my deepest heart, my playful days, my sleepless nights, my worries, my dreams and all the days of this crazy wonderful life we lead. Backstage, I write these words. On stage, as they say, the play goes on.
photo by Barbara Paulsen at tandemechoes.com.