By the end of summer we won’t live in our house anymore. We brought our babies home to this house. Despite regular purges of baby clothing and gear, I occasionally find a miniscule sock tucked in a corner of the linen closet, or extremely short pants in a desk drawer. There are ten years of art projects that need to be curated, and furniture whose only asset is that it is still functional. Whatever else made it desirable has been bleached out by the sun or layers and layers of small handprints. There is a desire to get rid of everything, to start with a clean slate, and then an equal pull to hold on to every tiny scrap of connection to the last tumultuous and crazy decade. Teams of realtors have trooped through, they use words like “sweet” and “comfortable.” It is the house equivalent of saying a homely girl has a great personality.
The house I live in now and the house I grew up in, are next door to each other. My children are the fifth generation of my family to live on this property. It is an incredible thing to have so much history in a place. I hide Easter eggs in places I remember finding them, I know almost instinctively when everything will bloom, and where to sit for sun or shade at any time of day. When my husband and I moved back here, we knew it wasn’t forever. When my grandmother died the property would be sold. Property that passes from generations often has more owners than residents. We always knew that someday we would be the last ones to turn off the lights and close the doors.
In all likelihood, someone will buy our house and tear it down. First, they will put a sign out at the end of our driveway that says demolition in giant block letters. A warning to anyone who drives by, that things are going to be changing around here. Dead man walking.
Then they will bring giant yellow diggers, which will park in our front and side yards in wait. They will dwarf the house, and will appear not like the friendly interested vehicles of the animated movies and stories my kids love, but instead will look like bloodthirsty dinosaurs ready to rip into our walls, and break our windows. It won’t take more than a day, and will only cost some future developer about five thousand dollars to make our very solid seeming little house into a hole in the ground.
The entire process sounds awful, as if you were able to watch a loved one be cremated or something. It is strange to know that to everyone on the planet but my family our land is worth more than our home.
I think sometimes about the house that will replace it, it will be much bigger and newer, there will be beadboard, and brushed nickel hooks and hardware, there will be powder rooms where you expect them, and when you flush the upstairs toilet the downstairs sink won’t shake. The people who move into the house won’t know about the incredible parties, the babies, the triumphs and the disasters that all happened on what is, for us, a sort of hallowed ground. We won’t leave behind arrowheads or broken pottery that would give clues about who we were. There may be an old hot wheels car up in the woods, or a pink barrette hidden in the ivy. They won’t see the attic that was turned into a Lego museum, housing the incredible universe of my boys imaginations, or the plexiglass that went over my daughters window after she figured out how to climb on to her radiator, and we feared she would pitch right through the thin hand poured glass and old wooden frame that barely kept out the cold or heat.
They won’t know about the hood over the stove in the kitchen which is exactly the right height to lean against as you cook dinner. They won’t know that the hood once held me up when all in the same evening I received a report from a doctor describing my youngest child as severely autistic/non-functional, a letter from the IRS saying that we were eight thousand dollars behind on our taxes, and finally a short note from my mom letting me know that my father had been admitted to the hospital for a long stay. I stood in the kitchen with my hands on the hood of that stove until my arms tingled, I was afraid that if I moved from that spot the tsunami of bad news would spill out of the kitchen and taint the rest of the house and its inhabitants. In truth, I was also debating if there was enough wine in the house or the county to give me some respite from this incredible onslaught that was beyond tears.
Instead, I walked into the living room, and I guess eventually upstairs, put the children to bed, spoke to my husband who was away for work, and went to bed. We moved on. The government got paid, my Dad got out, my daughter improves slowly. We have layered many happy wonderful moments on top of the sad ones. None of that exists within the house in any kind of permanent way. Even if we died of old age in our beds the memories that define our life would not exist in the house like cabinets or light switches.
Some day a very long time from now, I will drive down the street and look at what replaced our house. It will be disorienting like looking at a photograph that you know is you, but you can’t remember being there or looking like that. To the family or families that buy the house, it will be a clean slate. They will bring their babies home to it, they will make their own happiness and have their own disappointments, no more relevant to me than mine are to them.
We make our own sacred ground, the block where we had our first apartment, our school bus stops, where we learned to ride a two-wheeler. Through the eyes of other people they are just a city block, a street corner and a dirt road. Sometimes, I think it’s not the house at all, but this period in our lives, we aren’t young or old. We have made enough decisions that there are not unlimited possibilities, but not so many that we can’t daydream. We are wiser and more confident than we were in our twenties, which keeps us out of trouble, but leaves the door open for the occasional misadventure.
This house represents what it means to be a young family, a feeling of possibility and promise. It was a cocoon for our earliest dreams as grown ups, and for our first real heart breaks. I don’t know what the next place will be, city or country, big or small, new or old, I know it will be different, until it isn’t.
We will take the best parts of our life with us, we will pretend that our new house will make us better people. Now I will garden, or only use organic produce, or exercise, or speak Spanish…..But eventually we will settle in, being who we are, who we have always been, because no matter how hallowed the ground, how perfect the space, how incredible the view, we know that it will only feel like home if we let it.