This old house. There is something about it. I have memories here. Too many. Leaving those memories behind is going to be tough.
Yeah, I know a house is just an inanimate object without a soul or personality. Believe me, I get that. There’s nothing magical about lumber and shingles. A house is just rooms, electrical outlets, lightbulbs, and a few broken toilets.
But then, sometimes—sometimes—a house is more than that. Sometimes a house is a home. And this house was one such home to me.
I’m thinking about all this while looking at my late mother-in-law’s half empty home.
Currently, all my mother-in-law’s things have been packed away, her drawers exhumed, her belongings placed into cardboard boxes for safekeeping.
Right now we are temporarily staying here, but soon this house will be a tomb. Soon, the estate-sale people will take over from here and sell these things. It’s hard to believe that bargain hunters will fill this home, buying all items that remain. It’s hard to picture my mother-in-law’s china sitting in someone else’s cupboard.
If you’ve ever wanted to reflect on the temporal nature of your life, look around your house and visualize a bunch of yard-salers placing bids on your rocking chair, your flatscreen, or your Frigidaire. There you are.
Over the past weeks, my wife has been cleaning closets and sifting through eighty-some years’ worth of her mother’s belongings. We have poured over every black-and-white photo album, tried on every feathery hat, read every old newspaper clipping, played every Bobby Vinton LP, and cried in every room of this home. All the while, we were sort of ignoring the inevitable:
This is it. These are the last moments we’ll spend in this home. The end.
So we have eaten our nostalgic dinners at my mother-in-law’s dining table, amidst a house that is strewn apart, retelling old stories, and reminding ourselves of olden times.
This residence is our history. This is the place where we spent every Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, family reunion, Sunday dinner, and NCAA National Championship.
But that’s over now. Yesterday we counted my mother-in-law’s sterling silver pieces, separated her clothing, cleaned out her freezer, and threw away the old food in her pantry.
Now, as we approach the pivotal moment when we have to say goodbye, I think I am finally realizing why I love this old house so much.
As a young man, I had no real home. I grew up with an unsteady life and no concrete foundation. Our roots were shallow, we had neither a headquarters, nor much extended family.
After my father died my clan bounced around town like Barnum & Bailey on amphetamines. We lived everywhere—trailers, apartments, rental units, block houses, and salvaged refrigerator cartons. The only house my family ever visited on Thanksgiving, for example, was Waffle House.
But when I met my wife, that all changed.
For our first date I came to this exact home to pick her up. I stood on this brick porch, rang this very doorbell, and cupped my hand over my mouth to check my breath. When the front door swung open, my life was never the same. After that day, this house became a main character in my most important memories.
Everything happened right here. This was the house where I proposed. This is where my wife and I first kissed. And after our honeymoon, my wife and I moved into the upstairs bedroom and lived with my in-laws.
(Note to reader: never move into the upstairs bedroom and live with your in-laws.)
And when my mother-in-law fell ill, years ago, we moved in once again, this time to be caregivers. We built our lives around my wife’s mother’s routine. My wife cooked every supper, took her mother to the bathroom, tucked her in each evening, and administered the proper amount of Estée Lauder Youth Dew bath powder after each shower.
This was also the place where our family once congregated in a little back bedroom to hold an old woman’s hand as she crossed the river into the Sweet By and By.
Yes, I know it’s just a mortar-and-brick place. And I know there isn’t anything remotely special about a bunch of drywall and furniture. But sometimes a house is more than just a house.
And Lord, I’m going to miss this place.