Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cutting Ties

Yorkshire at Common Sense Political Thought has a post up about cleaning out and selling his parents' house, one that had been in the family for more than 80 years.

It's hard for me to imagine keeping a house in the family for 80 years, given the American tradition of moving up and out. Such a phenomenon would have been impossible with my own parents; my mother was from England, transplanted here when she married her Yankee husband, and my father was raised in various coal mining camps all over rural southern West Virginia. My grandfather never even owned a house until he was 70 years old.

The house I grew up in was a tiny 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house (no garage) that was approximately 1,100 square feet. My sister and I shared a bedroom, and my brother occupied the one next to us. Our parents had the bedroom down the hall, across from the bathroom that we all shared.

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We three kids loved this house. We didn't really notice how tiny and cramped it was, unless we had relatives coming or something (there was a summer that we had 12 people in that house, all using the one bathroom). We were sad when my parents decided to sell it and buy a bigger home. At the time, it made no sense to me why my parents were moving from the home they had raised us in to a bigger one at a time when their brood's size was reducing. Of course, I had no way of realizing that my mother had always dreamed of owning a brick home and that it wasn't important to her if the house was functional for the rest of us or not.

My parents moved into this home in 1987 on the day I graduated from college. I did not attend my college ceremonies (call it youthful snottiness, if you will), but instead, went to work and to play with friends until the wee hours. I came home to find the house completely cleaned out with the exception of my own belongings and a few bits and pieces scattered in the other rooms. So, I spent the last night in that house alone.

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The new house was very nice, although the bedrooms were not as big as the ones my siblings and I had shared in the old one. But in some strange ways, the new house became home for we kids in ways the old house had not.

My family had a tradition of getting together on Sundays, not unlike the one described in this Darryl Worley song. We would meet at Mom and Dad's early in the afternoon. Dad would cook hamburgers, and we would eat, talk, compare notes and argue politics. We'd watch whatever sport was in season on TV. We'd play Scrabble. We'd put our kids down for naps or watch them splash around in the wading pool my sister bought for them, or see them playing in the dollhouse my dad bought for the girls.

Cleaning out that house was more difficult than I'd imagined, not just because my fahter was a packrat and never threw anything away, but because all the memories got in the way. Over the course of a month, we managed to discard what we could and pack up the rest, dividing most of it and hording what was left. After a while, you become numb to the ache of nostalgia as you find yet another Polaroid of a family barbecue or another bit of Mom's unfinished knitting. But it took a while to get to that point.

Yorkshire described cleaning out and selling his parents' house as "cutting loose" from the past, and that's a very accurate description. Unfortunately (or fotunately, depending on your POV), we drag that anchor around in our lives.