Saturday, December 4, 2010

Like A Little Death

I helped my mother to move out of the house that she and my father moved me and my two older sisters into a few months before my first birthday.

She decided that keeping the house up was more than she could manage on her own. The yard is spacious by the standards of the town. It's one of the property's best features, but all that grass doesn't cut itself. The housing market in the US isn't as frothy and wild as it was two or three years ago, but interest rates were still low enough to keep buyers off the sidelines. She put the house on the market in the spring with a starting price that was reasonable, below the median for the area. She entertained a steady stream of viewers in several open houses throughout the spring and summer, but no offers were forthcoming.

While she was waiting for a nibble she was looking at places to move into . She found a lovely condominium in town had the location and features she was looking for. It was in a community that was mixed in age, not one of those warehouses for seniors.

She got her first sign of interest late in the season, but the low ball offer wasn't acceptable. A few months later, the buyer came back with a serious offer. Things moved quickly: she negotiated an acceptable price that allowed her to buy the condo and left her with cash in her pocket, even after paying the capital gains taxes.

Next came the hard part: playing Solomon for decades of accumulated stuff, deciding what to keep, pack, and move and what to discard. A stack of cardboard boxes and many rolls of bubble wrap was procured for the keepers; a dumpster was dropped in the driveway that became the final resting place for the discards. It took several weekends of work to sort it all out, but the day finally came this week. The movers arrived early on Tuesday morning to ferry it all across town to the new location.

My youngest brother was the last into the house; he was also the last to leave. He stayed in the house to direct the movers. My assignment was the new condo. The hardwood floors were bare, so it was the perfect time to wash and clean every surface for the new occupant. I had a bucket, a sponge, some heavy duty knee pads, several squeeze bottles of Murphy's Oil Soap, and cleaning agents for the tile, bathroom, and kitchen. I emptied a dozen buckets of hot, black water into the drain after a morning of hard labor. By the time the movers arrived at mid-morning the place was spotless and ready to accept furniture.

The movers did a brilliant job. It pays to have professionals do these things. The whole job was done by the time darkness enveloped us at five o'clock. The hard work of unpacking and settling lay ahead, but the emotional job of leaving the house and all its history behind was done.

My youngest brother took some beautiful photos of the house, including the picture that accompanies this entry. It was a fittingly overcast, somber day. We were all left with our memories. This was the house where my mother spent her entire adult life with her husband and six children. All of her children had their own memories of time spent together in the house, yard, and neighborhood. We celebrated lots of birthdays, including memorable surprise parties for milestone birthdays for our mother and one brother. Two sisters were married in town and had unforgettable parties in the house at the end of their wedding days. Our father passed away in the house; one brother was nursed almost to the end in the living room.

I kept my mind on the work at hand all day. I did my best to be grateful for our mother's courage to make such a decision. I didn't dwell on the past. I reminded myself that home was where our mother was; the house was a mere building. The time that I've lived away from that address is now twice that of the time I called it home.

But the enormity of it all hit me when I returned to my own home. Maybe it was the time of day: dusk on a quiet, cold December weekend. The waning of the day, year, life itself. It's like a little death. It's final; it's a bifurcation point in our history, dividing time into Before Move and ever after. It's a reminder that our mother still has her health, her marbles, and her grace, but time is passing by.

It says I'm not young anymore, either. Someday my children will be faced with a similar chore and remember all the time they spent in my house.

I'm glad that we had the time that we did. It's time to move on.

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