A viable offer has been made on my childhood home. I’m not falling out of my chair with shock, considering it’s been on the market for a while, but it’s definitely a lot to process, especially around the holidays. And though I’ve said goodbye to plenty of spaces in the past—both as a homeowner and an actor—I’m having a tough time imagining that a time will come, very soon, that upon walking through the garage door into the family room in the house on Hickory Bark Lane, instead of turning to see my dad in his infamous chair watching some variety of sports, I’ll be greeted by a shocked family wondering why a strange woman is trespassing. It’s weird and a little heartbreaking when a house is not a home anymore.
I am at the point in life often referred to as being a “sandwich caregiver”—an adult who spends time caring for both their children and their aging parents. Now, to be fair, I don’t do nearly as much caregiving for my parents as my sisters, but I try. I’m the youngest of six kids—GIRLS, yes…ALL GIRLS—and will admit that I’ve never been the go-to sib for planning/coordinating/facilitating/cooking/cleaning or paying for things. Basically, the bar is fairly low when you’re the baby, the black sheep, and the artsy one who chose fulfillment over, let’s say, health insurance. For much of my life my name was generously added to cards for group gifts and I was assigned to bring rolls or pop to family gatherings rather than being expected to shop and/or cook. But in the last couple of decades, I actually grew up. I’m an executive at a non-profit, I have a great husband and kid, and we (believe it or not) have dinner as a family, at the table, every night. So, as this new adult-type-person, I do my best to support the village when it comes to taking my parents to doctor appointments, picking up prescriptions, and helping move them to a senior apartment, and to clean out the old house.
We spent most weekends this past summer working on the family home to ready it to put on the market. And the thing about being an adult is you’re well aware of the task at hand. While sorting through the items, creating piles of “keep,” “donate,” and “trash,” you find yourself thinking, this isn’t going to be Mom and Dad’s house anymore. That time is done. Move on and get the cleaning job done. But there’s still a kid in you that wails, Veruca Salt-style, NOOOO! This is MYYYY house! No one else can have it!! And while you try to calm yourself by opening your mind and heart to embrace ideas like, a lovely new family will make their memories here. You still kinda want to give that imaginary lovely new family the finger, tell them to get the hell out of your house, and then mark every corner of the place with your pee.
The funny thing about all of this is that I should be excellent at transitions like these. I’ve lived in three apartments and four houses, and as an actor, I’ve said goodbye to many spaces in my life that were once every day home bases. Three of the theatre spaces where I performed/wrote/directed shuttered in the last twenty years and even at my day job, our art studios and computer lab have been repurposed for other programming uses. Not to mention the year and a half I spent living and performing on cruise ships that became homes to whom I eventually bid farewell at the end of the contracts. The sense of a home that is no longer a home isn’t foreign to a performer like me. But this is different. I had a very happy childhood in this space, and it’s hard to process it won’t be ours anymore.
So to combat the feelings of loss, I’m going to share some highlights of the wonderful memories from the space that won’t be my space. I’m hopeful that in writing out the experiences I had with my family in that four-bedroom colonial, those times will live on regardless of losing access to the house. In no particular order, here’s a flood of partial and full memories that will linger in the house whether or not the lovely new family knows how lucky they are to have them surrounding them like happy ghosts.
In the doorway on the step down from the kitchen to the family room, mistletoe hung year-round. My husband always playfully grumbled when I caught him under it every time we visited home.
Until around age ten, I slept in a trundle bed. Once, I closed myself in it for fun (a thought that makes me queasy now, having developed crippling claustrophobia since) and found it difficult to re-open once I’d slid it closed. To add insult to injury, our cat, Nero, sat on the outside, swatting my fingers, claws out, each time I tried to get purchase to pull the bed open again.
The recent Beatles documentary reminded me of the countless hours I spent in my room listening to the fab four. Musically, I was obsessed with the 60’s and fancied myself an 80’s version of a hippie. I spent any of the nights I didn’t have play practice in my room, sitting at my drafting table (a hand me down from sister #1, an interior designer), listening to The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Cream, and Janis Joplin while sketching, and burning a stick of incense. You’d have thought I’d have been sneaking a joint into the mix of this solo hangout, but no. I was definitely not that cool. In fact, my aunt pointed out that people typically burn incense to hide “other smells” and at the time I had no idea what she was talking about.
I can very clearly picture the summer Sunday when The Dinner Time Mole Incident occurred. For what seemed like the only time ever, my dad had made ribs and just as we sat down to eat, our neighbor came running in through the garage door. “I got one! I got one!” We had a terrible mole problem and both my mom and our neighbor would go on “Mole Patrol,” finding the critters in their tunnels and bludgeoning them. Our neighbor was the scout, and Mom, the bludgeoner. On this day, the neighbor had seen a mole above ground in our backyard. After hearing the call to arms, my mom popped up from the table and bolted outside. The excitement died out quickly, as we realized the neighbor—proud of having trapped a flowery-nosed interloper—had merely thrown a Tupperware container over the mole to catch it and all the critter had to do to escape was dig down…which of course it did.
One of the hardest laughs of my youth was the night that Mom and aunt (her sister) had a bit too much wine and Mom put corn kernels on her two front teeth and drew a mustache and other markings on her face with a wine cork she burnt over a candle. Once in “costume” she proceeded to sing songs, tell jokes, and laugh hysterically.
The living room at the front of the house had emerald green low pile carpet and from years of six girls dancing and singing in the middle of the room (using either a hairbrush or vacuum cleaner handle for a mic), the carpet wore down. Eventually whenever someone put on a record, Mom would appear crying, “don’t dance on the bald spot!”
I remember being in the room that sisters #1 and #2 shared. I spied a bloodstain on the sheets and asked sister #5 about it. She kindly explained to me what a period was and I laughed in her face. Nice try. I’m not buying that made-up crap. I was probably six or seven.
I ended up with a garden decoration from the old house that is a stone plaque with the gardener’s prayer on it. It concludes with, “One is nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” While we cleaned out the house, I was given it to take home because of a story of how I convinced the boy down the street that our grandpa was buried in front of our house and the plaque was his tombstone.
All the ashtrays. Both of my parents smoked until the mid 90’s. I can remember a large red, metal ashtray that Dad tamped out his Salem’s into as he sat watching old movies and crossing them off in his Leonard Maltin paperback of every movie ever made. (We bought him a new one each year and he’d transfer his check marks and notes.)
There was a large rock in the backyard we used to play on. When I was little, it seemed to be a boulder. By the time I was a teenager, it seemed so much smaller. I remember playing King of the Castle there and anytime a game needed a place to serve as “safe,” it was the rock.
Often, I think my sisters passed on jobs to me that they’d been assigned, knowing that as a pleaser, I’d probably do it. Once, sister #5 told me I had to vacuum the living room. She pointed to the cord on the vacuum, which was dotted with pieces of duct tape every few feet from young cleaners carelessly running over the cord. #5 explained to me that I should be very careful when running the vacuum because if I ran over the cord, it would break open and gas would go in my eyes and I’d have to wear glasses just like her. I think it took me two hours to very cautiously clean the rug.
Endless kitchen memories. Food was a central part of the joy in our family, so I have strong memories of dad making the two main things he made: Sunday breakfast and spaghetti sauce (aka “gravy”). Add into that mix countless memories of my mom canning tomatoes and jam, making endless Christmas cookies, as well as a bunch of old school foods no one seems to eat any more like: smelt, liver and onions, and liverwurst sandwiches.
Holiday memories stick out, of course. Including the elves we hung along the stairs to whisper our gift wishes to (WAY before elf on a shelf thankyouverymuch). And clear as a bell, I can recall sitting in the family room alone with sister #4 who’d pulled me aside to explain the blurt someone had done about Santa not being real. It was an odd moment of sweetness from #4 who typically gave me a hard time. (We’re fine now, by the way.)
And it’s at the holidays that all of this wraps up. If everything goes well with this buyer, we’re likely to close just after Christmas. If you celebrate Christmas, the next time you’re listening to festive music, note how often they talk about HOME. While decorating our tree and listening to a holiday playlist, I started getting queasy. Every song seemed to be centered around not needing all the trappings of the season and all that really mattered was being home with the ones you love. Thanks guys.
But here’s how life marches on. Now the home base for our memories will be one of my sisters’ homes. (Not mine, I’m the artsy, non-profit one, remember? Not nearly enough room in my pokey little bungalow.) And now we girls are the parent generation making the cookies and warning against dancing on the bald spot. Now, I get to watch my kiddo form a list of memories like mine above, only his include smartphones, Minecraft, and masks. Before I break into a belting rendition of The Circle of Life, I’ll wrap by saying, as sad as I am to say goodbye to such a central place in my life, and regardless of the pang in my chest every time I think about it, I know that it is a sad chapter that most adults have to close at some point. And with all hope, we charged that house with such a wealth of good vibes, love, and so very much laughter, that it could change hands a hundred times, and new families would feel the joy within those walls.