Sunday, May 13, 2012

One Family's History

This weekend, Mom and Dad came for a quick visit, and we were fortunate enough to be able to arrange to show them our new house. Andrew and I were so excited for the trip—we hadn’t visited the house for many weeks, and no one besides us had seen it yet. We were anxious to show it off, and eager to hear confirmation that we’d made the right choice.

When we arrived at the house on Saturday morning, our broker wasn’t yet there, but cars were in the driveway. People approached us: the owner’s daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. They were at the house to do some work and packing and hadn’t known we were coming. It felt like an illicit meeting, pre-closing: should our lawyers have been present? were we trespassing? There is something inherently odd about the process of turning a house over to a new family, particularly when the house in question has been lived in by one family for so many years. Even if selling is the right or only thing to do (as it seems to be in this case, with an aging, widowed patriarch in a nursing home and grown children with lives and homes elsewhere), there must be some degree of suspicion or resentment about the new people moving in, taking over once-familiar rooms, planning changes, pointing out quirks (that stove! that wallpaper!) that aren’t quirks at all to those saying goodbye.

This house, especially, just seems so full of memories—it’s part of why we love it so much. Awkward as the meeting may have been for the family, they couldn’t have been nicer to us, and it was actually pretty great to be able to spend this little bit of time with the people who know the house best. We found out that big screened panels to enclose the front porch are stored in the rafters of the garage. We learned that the patriarch regularly repaired custom wooden window blinds that are stored in the attic if we would like to use them. We found out that the son is the one who used the cellar bathroom as a darkroom (we’d spotted photo-developing miscellany on our last visit), and that he used to repair Mustangs in the garage. We learned that he and his wife, during a graduate-school stint, lived for a couple of years on the third floor. They showed us an impressive collection of rakes and shovels in the garage, some repaired by hand—including a pitchfork with a sturdy tree branch as a handle. They pointed out where a garden used to be, a pole that had held a basketball hoop, bushes that tend to take over if not kept in check. They said they filled four dumpsters when they cleaned out the house.

The rooms are, for the most part, empty now. The clutter of these particular lives has been almost entirely erased.

Though the family were gracious and welcoming, we made as quick an exit as possible, aware that their minds were on the work to be done. Being there felt intrusive, somehow, as they tied up the loose ends to their home (and it is still theirs, very much theirs); if it were me, I’d have wanted badly to be left alone. And though the family were right there in front of us, sharing their memories, I also felt distinctly haunted, as though they weren’t there at all and we were instead conjuring a departed family’s history from forgotten yard tools, scuff marks on a wall, a footprint of a garden in the yard; wondering what they were like, how they’d lived, even as we filled the house with our own footsteps, dreams, plans.  


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