It's been nearly one year since I moved from my condo into my new(est) house. And it's been six years exactly since I moved from my family's home--my dream home--the one my former husband and I built and raised our children.
This last move was far easier than the first. I have learned far better how to adapt to change. Life goes on, and warm memories--thankfully--remain forever.
Here's what I wrote as I contemplated that first move:
The fresh paint on the walls has dried, and the smell of just-laid carpet nearly faded. Except for a stack of framed pictures which still await rehanging, my home renovations are complete.
My eighteen-year-old house feels new once again. I plan to enjoy the newness, these HGTV-dictated updates, for a couple more years. And then I'll do the logical thing, the sensible one: I'll put the house on the market, find a small and practical condominium, and move away.
As a recent and single empty-nester, selling this two-story, twelve-room house should seem a foregone conclusion. Clearly I don’t need this amount of space, nor the hefty mortgage. And I know it’s time to relinquish, gladly, the tedious tasks of lawn-mowing and snow-shoveling.
Yet all that logic is swayed by half a lifetime of growing sentiment. Because in my mind, this shall always remain the dream house my former husband and I designed and built--when our marriage was still intact and our children were still toddlers. It's the house where I raised my two boys to manhood. It's the only childhood home either of them remembers. It’s the place I once envisioned retiring, babysitting my grandchildren, and growing old.
How to leave it, when memories lurk in each corner of the house and linger in every inch of the yard? How will I follow through with letting it go, on the day I must finally go away for good?
As I glance at the front porch, I'm certain I’ll recall the home's beginnings: how the rising wooden frame beckoned us all toward the future. I’ll remember my towheaded two-year-old son, bent over with his Fisher-Price tools clutched in his mittened hands—an image which remains frozen in my memory. "I build our new house, Mommy," he announced with a proud smile, his plastic hammer rapping on a four-by-four board.
I will wander around to the back yard, where I'll catch sight of the pine tree. It was nothing more than a nine-inch stick when my youngest son brought it home from his preschool Arbor Day celebration. Now it nearly reaches the rooftop. The back lawn and mulched flower beds, bursting with roses and pink gladiolus blooms, somehow managed to survive years of Capture the Flag and pick-up football games. This same yard also served as the setting of many teary-eyed funerals for guinea pigs, tadpoles, and hermit crabs, who did not survive the years.
The wooden deck appears weathered and worn after countless Fourth of July barbecues and birthday parties. I’ll smile, remembering the impromptu concerts that it hosted, too. I’ll hear those exuberant voices of eight-year-olds as they danced and belted out the Backstreet Boys to an audience of grinning parents and obliging neighbors, back when our children still lacked the self-consciousness their teenage years would soon enough bring.
I’ll take a deep breath and open the sliding glass doors into the kitchen. I will glance at the recently emptied cupboards and then wander into the dining room, where we hosted holiday dinners for nearly two decades. I will stroke the sleek surface of the long mahogany table, which will likely not find a place in my new condominium.
At the adjacent piano, my two young sons once played a duet for their great-grandfather, just a year before he died. A photo of it remained for years, displayed on the built-in bookcases in the family room, but now packed away along with the framed baptism and graduation pictures.
Peering down the basement, I'll recall the fort my children built beneath the stairwell. All that remains is the rough-hewn wooden door, with the words “Keep Out” written in red marker. The fort sat dormant for years, vacated for more compelling teenage occupations like cars and girls. But once upon a time, it held the rapt attention of several flushed-faced boys wielding hammers and saws, building a tiny place they could call their own.
I will roam through the house and wander up the stairs. Finally, I will pass the front bedroom which once held a nursery. If I close my eyes tightly, I can still see the Sesame Street crib comforter and matching curtains. I can almost imagine the feel of that now grown baby’s soft cheek and catch a whiff of the sweet scent of talcum powder.
How to let go?
Is a house simply some four-walled arena in which a series of scenes in our life play out? Or is it more? Is a home our memory-keeper, a family field of dreams?
On the day I leave here for the last time, I will collect the images of our lives that took place in every room, every hallway, and every inch of the yard. I will commit every bit of this to memory.
And, once I realize I can take all of that with me--I will tell myself that I'm ready to move on.
Has it been difficult for you to move on?