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."

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)


Anonymous said...

I was so moved by your post. It's always good, but dealing with such a sad Christmas this year touched my heart. What a sweet walk down memory lane. I would want to take very object that I could. Pass those beautiful memories and stories down to your family. Possibly documented in a book or scrapbook. Lovely, just lovely. Mary Ann, Texas

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. I remember tether ball and banana seats too. Thanks for sharing those memories.

Gone-ta-pott said...

Oh my gosh your post was beautiful. I've been going through something similar myself and I haven't done so good at saying goodbye to the things. Even the photo of the rose in the jar brought me to tears because I have looked at a dead peach rose in a jar on my Mothers kitchen table now for months and couldn't bare to even through it away. I guess because I knew it's the last rose from her favorite rose bush. Tisk.... beautiful post.

Paula said...

My sincere condolences on the loss of your Mother. Your memories you shared are precious and I can imagine the emotions you experienced writing this post. Thank you for sharing these moments so close to your heart.

Bunny said...

Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jane,I just want to say how much I like your blog. I love reading it, and thanks for all the great recipes. I am so sorry for the loss of your darling dad and mother-in-law. It is hard to let go of things. I have a very hard time with that. Keep writing your wonderful blog. We would miss it if you didn't.

june in ireland said...

This is such a touching, moving, heartfelt and beautifully expressed post, Jane. I couldn't hold back the tears while reading it and looking at the photos you'e shared. I agree with Mary Ann, how beautiful it would be to pass down these warm and loving memories by keeping a scrapbook or writing a book.

It's been such a difficult year for you, my friend. For this to have happened during Christmas time makes it that much harder - I know this from personal experience having lost my beloved dad on the eve of Christmas Eve.

Keep these memories in your heart always, and you will find that your beloved parents, your wonderful mother-in-law, and your much-loved family home are and always will be with you, alive and well. I know this to be true, too. Those we love will always be kept alive through our love for them, and their love for us. It's a connection that goes very, very deep, and a bond that is very, very strong.

Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts, your memories and your heart with us, Jane. Much love to you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jane, thank you for sharing what you have gone through and I hope by writing out you will feel much better. My condolences on the loss of your Mother-in-law.
Take care.
Ur pal from S'pore,

annie said...

I hope 2012 will be a turnaround year for your family, after all you have been through this past year. Good things only seem to happen once, but bad things occur in clusters, and I say this is from personal experience. I hope you have been able to keep some things for yourself. I know I would have a hard time of letting things go. So sorry for your loss.

gborian said...

Just reading your blog inspires me to"Just Do It!".
Having to go through the loss of your Dad, your Mother in Law and the precious home that you grew up in, all in the period of a few months seems too much to bear.. I see in these times, that your Blog is bringing you not only a focus but alos a sort of solace to you...
My very best wishes to you.

elisa said...

Thank you for sharing your memories. You brought tears to my eyes but also a realization that it's the little things that make up a lifetime of memories

Mama's Gotta Bake said...

What a very touching post, something that many of us can relate to. Thanks for sharing.