There’s No Place Like Home

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
There’s No Place Like Home

Mom and Dad are moving.

There. I said it.

After 42 years, my parents are leaving the 110-year-old, three-story house that served as the backdrop for my growing-up life—a silent witness to my first teetering steps, first fumbling prayers, first teenage crushes. I remember standing at the top of those wide wooden stairs at age five, in pajamas on Christmas morning; at age 18, with a mortar board bobby-pinned to my hair; at 23, dressed in white satin.

The old place knew all of my first loves because their pictures were taped to the walls: Scott Baio, Michael Jackson, Donny Osmond … and E.T.

It also knew every misdeed: the time my brother John and I decapitated the Barbies and hid them behind the radiator; Christmas Eve of 1975 when I devoured a whole plateful of Spritz cookies in the pantry; when my sisters and I composed typewritten letters by a ghost named The Draft—we slipped the notes under the bedroom door of our brother, who was convinced that a specter haunted the darkened hallways of our home.

In that old house on West Athens Street—where lilacs blossomed every spring and mums bloomed every fall—I learned what it meant to laugh and love and live as family.

And now, I’m trying to figure out how to say goodbye.

That house and I were playmates, and we knew each other's secrets. The wooden banister was my first slide. Dad in his recliner, my first see-saw. The basement storeroom, my first roller-rink. On summer afternoons, I shinnied up the evergreen spires to climb onto the roof of a friend. Up there, sprawled out on her gigantic shingled lap, I would stare at the sky and daydream. She never seemed to mind if I didn’t feel like talking.

This morning, I pick up the phone to dial the numbers that connect me to home, digits I memorized back in preschool. It hits me: By June, I’ll never again dial that phone number.

Mom answers on the third ring with a sunny hello. She recites the list of things to sell, to give away, to box up. Even if her four grown children aren’t ready, she is. Or, at least, it sounds like she's ready. I hear the resolve in her voice. Then again, I wonder if she hears the same thing in my voice—cheery and affirming—when she reminds me that the movers will come soon.

And just like that, our life stage will be emptied of its props and actors.

We're 100 miles apart, Mom and I, but if I squint the mind's eye, I can see her standing in the laundry room. Her bare feet are anchored, almost seamlessly, to that cool, cracked cement floor. The house has become such a part of our family that I can barely distinguish the structure from the inhabitants.

The house feels like a second skin. I know every wrinkle, bruise, scar, and age-spot. I even know the bones that creak loudest—third stair from the top. I knew to skip that step when I came home past curfew.

We were tight, that old house and I. Look at that, would you? I’m already talking about her in the past tense.

But it’s time. It really is. Mom and Dad are in their 70s, and old knees fare better with one-level living.

Still. Goodbyes are hard, aren’t they?

In the home where I live now, we're passing a legacy of rootedness to my own children. When we built this house nine years ago, we made room for a built-in bench by the kitchen table—just like the bench on which I ate every meal growing up. We also installed a stained-glass window, a replica of the one that stretches across the wall back home.

In this house—my house—I set a wooden plaque on the laundry-room windowsill that reads: “My home isn’t a place. It’s people.”

I get that. I really do. But I'm still going to grieve a while longer. For I'm going to miss that splendidly creaky home that will always whisper bits of our life-story in every cobwebbed corner.

Image by Em Ali. Used with permission via Flickr.