What are heavy, yet have no weight, take up no room and stay with you forever? As I pack up my family home, with the intention of selling and downsizing, the things that no mover can transport are the stories of the house and our life within its walls over the past 46 years.
Does anyone else hear the dogs barking? That would be Sheba (1978 to 1996), our kids’ childhood pet, who did a crazed whirling dervish every time the doorbell rang. Her ashes rest in peace under the daylilies in the front flowerbed. Listen and you can hear Zoe (2001 to 2017), our girl for 16 years, who stood in the front window every single day, sniffing out mail carriers and other impostors.
These days, our Lillybee stands guard.
Our living room/dining area is a welcoming space; laughter has bounced off the walls for decades. Even in the dark, memories drift around the room like stars.
We carried our son the defense attorney downstairs from his afternoon nap to attend his own first birthday party in our living room in 1972. That year, and for dozens of years afterward, fancy birthday cakes sweetened the moment.
When my husband turned 30, I organized a surprise party, cooking for weeks and hiding platters all over the house, even under the furniture the day of the party. He kept telling me he smelled Swedish meatballs, but he didn’t know they were under the sofa.
We threw a 50th birthday party for my mother in 1974, catered by Willie’s of Cedarhurst — 40 people at tables for 10, just six weeks after I gave birth to our daughter. When the future psychiatrist was 6, my husband arranged a full dress-up soiree for her and few of her girlfriends: formal attire, with my husband in a tuxedo done up like Jeeves.
Whenever I walk into my son’s bedroom, which hasn’t been his room for 24 years, I still see the built-in desk that he ran into when he was 4. It was an E.R. event, stitches over the eye, our first trauma in the new house. When we got home that night, my husband took a saw from the garage and hacked off the offending piece of furniture.
Our bedroom is my safe place. Fifty-one years ago we splurged on a custom-made wood bed frame. When I finally decided to replace the mattress 20 years ago, we threw away the old one but didn’t get delivery of the new one for six weeks. During that time I slept on the floor, within the bed frame, on a nest of blankets, and my husband has the photos to prove it.
Our back porch has been the summer gathering place for home cooking, backyard grilling, but more than that, great conversation with good friends. Its charm is its simplicity, a version, in my mind, of the Rockaway Beach front porches of childhood. Although it has electricity, we don’t use lights, preferring candlelight, which seems to encourage intimacy as the sun sets.
No one else would look at the living room and see an enormous, wild-eyed sea bird. But I recall the day, 15 years ago, when I was alone upstairs, and heard a violent flapping of wings coming from the first floor. A huge bird had somehow tumbled down the chimney and was trying to escape from the fireplace. I threw a beach towel over Big Bird and carried him outside. Fortunately, the fireplace, which warmed so many winter evenings, was cold.
The house is so tidy and spare these days. No hint of the times we had 12 or 14 family members sleeping in every empty space over Thanksgiving. Kids in their own beds, grandkids on blow-up mattresses, every socket in the house a host to a device that didn’t exist when we moved in over four decades ago.
These memories are among the things we will carry. You see a dining room table. I see 24 of us in Native American headdresses, circa 1978, when we decided to honor the original Americans at our Thanksgiving dinner. My mother looked awesome in feathers.
These are the memories that made our house our home. It feels good to know that another family will write their own stories.
Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.