The Home We Left Behind

Today, I realize that I have not posted an entry in my “Word Carver” blog in over a year. The last one was a glimpse of a difficult time: the closing of the door on 35 years–half of my life–spent in my home on 78th Avenue. I was awash in melancholy.

The days of purging before that last post were fresh and aching. The yard sale, when our belongings were carried away like the spoils of war; each trip to Goodwill–these were like tearing out pieces of my life. I experienced something like guilt. The moving felt like betrayal–ruthless rejection. The house had sheltered us; provided comfort and safety. It had embraced us. Now, I was ripping away scraps of it like necrotic tissue. It stung.

The reasons for the move are still valid. Having decided not to share our home with other “tenants”–some 85 people over the years— the house was too big for two of us. Five bedrooms and three bathrooms were more than we needed. Moreover, we were less inclined to maintain the space, a requirement for homeowners. Inside or outside, an older two-story house is a lot of work–we had other things we would rather do.

Furthermore, Portland, as I am fond of saying these days, “ain’t the city she used to be.” In the waning months of 2020, the city was rocked by riots and hooliganism. Symbols of heritage and authority were being toppled. Statues of Washington, Jefferson, even an elk, were defaced or demolished. The police department of which our son-in-law was a part, had become the enemy. A homeless village was forming a block away. The question loomed: how long will property values hold, particularly after the coming election? The fabric of civil order was already coming unraveled. What would happen if the disastrous administration were to win another four years?

As turned out, we needn’t have worried. Property values held steady or even increased after we moved. Still, there had been reason for concern. As the saying goes, hindsight is always 20/20.

There was a more important reason to move, though. Did it make sense to wait another ten years to make this move? We would be in our 80s. Moving then would certainly be a bigger challenge. And as the time of our relocation drew nearer, we would likely have become more reliant on our children and others for help with maintenance, not to mention the move. Moreover, it made more sense to do this while we could steer our own destiny–earn a hernia in the process– rather than be swept along by circumstance. It did, and does make more sense to be “the master of our fate and the captain of our soul.”

And then, there were the ghosts of the future: One of us left alone in that big house, left with only memories and quiet. The somber removal to hospital deathbed or funeral home. The estate sale with its parade of strangers picking through the remnants of our lives, bartering our existence.

No. Moving was the right decision.

But there was grief. The last day, I walked through the deserted rooms and halls; inspected our 5000 square foot homestead. I sat on the steps in the side yard, which had been mostly for storage and constantly needing tidying. I thought of the empty house; the newly mowed yard; the last items in the back of the car waiting to be taken away. I remembered the hundreds of people who had been here. I remembered…

Evenings glad with music.
A hearth-fire that’s ablaze.
The gifts that come to mortals
in a thousand different ways.

… laugher and contentment,
And the struggle for a goal.
… everything that’s needful
For the shaping of a soul.” *

I wept.

Occasionally, in the transitional months that followed the move, while we remained cloistered in a 26′ trailer waiting for our new house to be built, I would sense a familiar tightness in the back of my throat, a choking feeling. I first noticed it after my sister passed away. It was grief. Sometimes, foolishly, I would succumb to temptation. I would search my computer for the photos of the old house that our realtor took when she listed the property. I would wander through the rooms and remember the unseen details of every closet and corner — spending my grief. Emptying it. Hoping it would eventually subside–knowing it would.

It’s been over a year. We are now in a wonderful new place near family. We live in the country amid trees, birds and even chickens. There are new sounds and the scent of earth and trees. From our living room window, we see a new world stretch out before us. I am finally able to call it “home” without feeling guilty for abandoning the house on 78th–the house that loved us. There are days I still feel like a guest for a moment or two. But as winter turns to spring, I can feel the changing of the seasons. The prospect of summer, autumn and another winter reassures me. I feel the promise that, as the pandemic wanes, we will, again, throw open the doors and welcome friends and family to share our place on earth.

The thought brings me home.

~~~

  • Living, by Edgar A. Guest

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