I don’t often do this, but I’ve gotten so much feedback on this piece, I decided to re-post it here. It’s about our move across town, from a house we lived in for 29 years.
Aside from the expected upheaval — 29 years is a long time, ask your basement and your attic — there came a psychological wounding that was a bit of a surprise. A house can inhabit a soul. I know that now.
Further, the notion of change is something we always fretted over when it came to Jillian. Changing from elementary school (one teacher, one classroom) to middle school (many of each) was a concern. Having Jillian ride the metro bus from our area to Northern Kentucky University was a concern. Then, when Jillian and Ryan moved into their own place, without any outside support, was a sea change.
We always allowed Jillian and Ryan to define themselves, and they’ve handled it very well. They maintain their 2-bedroom townhouse as well as anyone else. They take good care of their dog, Gracie. But every letting-go was a little scary.
I guess this move was, too. I’m a man of routine, of habit, of getting attached to things. I’m a career melancholist. A month after the move, I still refer to the old place as our home. This new, down-sized place is our house. Anyway, change is good and necessary and takes courage. I’m glad we’ve changed and our courage has been put to the test. Our kids are better for it. But I still miss Jillian in her room in our home.
Here’s the column, from the Cincinnati Enquirer. Thanks as always, and. . .
Expect. Don’t Accept.
An Uncomplicated Life is available in hardcover, paperback and on Kindle and audio, at Amazon.com
MOVING LEAVES AN ACHE
Any day now, the guys in the trucks will do my job. They will appear with long hoses attached to bulbous payloads to spew an endless stream of brown mulch onto the flower beds and treed areas of my brand new yard.
It’s a perfect yard, made fine and untouchable by strangers I pay for the privilege. It’s part of the dues, homeowner’s fees, whatever they call it. The workers mulch, they trim, they edge. They cut my grass. I cut grass for 48 seasons.
Last week, we left our home of 29 years. We raised two children and three dogs there. We lived a lifetime in what now seems like a whisper across a crowded room, heard only by those intimately affected. A big chunk of living occurred in what is now someone else’s space.
Now I know how Brooklyn fans felt in 1958 and what it was like in Baltimore in 1984, when the moving vans came to steal the Colts.
This moving, this shedding of formerly essential bits of big life – this Downsizing – strikes me as a concession. It’s supposed to make life lighter. So why do I feel so heavy?
The snow flies, the world turns, the neighborhood changed. Everyone moved. The Lairds and the Warzalas, the Snyders and the Slatterys. Our best friends in the neighborhood lived next door to us for 26 years. The Rutkouskys are moving later this spring. The regret isn’t that we’ve gone. It’s that we didn’t appreciate things properly before we left.
Kerry my wife sees it as a new adventure. I liked the old one. This isn’t a new “journey.’’ It’s a diminution and a giving-in. Because I am Irish and perfectly suited to professional melancholy, I see it no other way.
Houses inhabit souls. I lost a loyal companion last week. He sheltered all of us and knew all of us better than we knew ourselves. For three decades, he hosted our full lives.
He was there when Jillian took her first tentative steps, across the rug in the living room. He enabled her prance down the stairs from her bedroom to the kitchen, where she met her Homecoming date, her smile a sun, her hair just so. The house offered subtle illumination on a dream, as the couple’s first kiss under the porch light foreshadowed their marriage a decade later.
The house bore witness to Kelly hanging from the mantel as a 3-year-old, then moving his bedroom to the basement at 16. When he began to play the guitar, the house, not the rest of us, heard his first tentative notes.
The house hosted graduation parties and Super Bowl parties and heard every hushed dish from every neighborhood woman who ever attended Bunco Night. The stories that house could tell. The house attended the final honoring of two dogs, whose ashes we spread beneath a towering pin oak at the edge of the woods.
What’s it like now?
It’s turning left and not right, or not turning at all, just doing 55 in the slow lane as the car eases past the old exit. It’s going to the big-box store and not buying tomato plants and another knockout rose bush. It’s not the mechanics of it that hurts. Anybody can get the mail delivered and the pictures hung.
It’s an errant wonder – “when are we going home?’’ – and a realization that we’re not.
It’s sitting in my new office that looks out into the hall and dreaming of my old office, which faced the woods. I’ll still have a deck and the radio tuned to the Reds, but now I’ll see as many cars as fireflies.
Home is a big word and one that must be earned. It’s true that people make a house a home. Wonderful houses can be lousy homes. Understood. But you can’t have one without the other.
It’s like a favorite pair of shoes or jeans. They are extensions of our personalities, how we like to see ourselves and how we choose to present ourselves to the world. Welcome to our home.
The new place is perfect. The old one was perfectly imperfect. Its perfection was in its well-meaning mess. It spoke to a man’s chance, on a soft and warm night in mid-June, to gaze at his grass and his trees, his hostas and his knockouts and say, “I love this place.’’ This home.
The new people are excited about our old home. They say they want to raise a family there. It’s a good house for that. Sturdy and lovely. And experienced. We can tell you that for sure. We lived there once.