Getting there

Getting there

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Look At This Photograph

This is not my house. It hasn't been my house in over twenty years, when I left to move to Toronto to join my boyfriend (the man who eventually became my husband). You see, this is the house I grew up in, and the only house I remember from my childhood. This was my parent's house for almost 30 years.

We moved into this house when I was about twelve. It was brand new then, and certainly the largest and grandest house my parents had ever owned or likely ever lived in. It was the culmination of their dreams and hard work. They had both grown up in rural poverty, had struggled with poverty throughout their own lives, and eventually managed through good management to achieve a degree of prosperity they had probably never imagined when they were children.

It's hard for me to look at this photo sometimes. There are so many memories here. So many special events, like the weddings of my sisters, and myself. So many holidays. And yet so many mundane memories, too. Sometimes I think it's those everyday memories that are really the special ones.

 I recall my mother's lavish garden. Her green thumb was legendary, and the only trouble was the area cats getting into her vegetables. My enterprising father, once a farmer, erected a tiny electrified fence, and the neighbourhood cats quickly learned to avoid our rather "shocking" yard. I will always associate the smell of sawdust with my father's backyard garage/workshop, where he built cedar chests and repaired all manner of small motorized appliances. I think back to when my uncles delivered the enormous rock seen on the far left of the photo. They had brought it from the farm and stopped at the local grain elevator to have it weighed. I don't recall the actual weight, but I spent many hours sitting on that rock as I grew, just thinking. I remember my father planting those two pine trees in the front yard, one of which would eventually become the tallest tree on the street, towering over the houses and housing all manner of birds. I remember all the care and attention they poured into that yard, always planting and trimming and watering and tidying. It was a showpiece every day of every year.

Every Sunday meant a family dinner, with sisters and brothers-in-law and children and whomever else happened to be around. You see, my parents had an open-door policy - any friend of their children was always welcome, and they welcomed many. We had Jewish friends who celebrated a Roman Catholic Christmas with us, and friends of mine (and my sisters) who would always show up suspiciously close to supper time (having discovered my mother cooked like a fiend and would feed you until you burst).

I had four older sisters, most of whom were living on their own when we moved into this house, but over the years they moved in and out as their lives changed and they needed to come home. And it was home - always home, in every sense, because we knew no matter what happened it would be there for us. The door was always open for us, too.

I remember coming home to this house from school, bad days and good. I remember returning from dates as I got older, some that were wonderful and some that were so spectacularly bad that I couldn't wait to get inside the door and breathe a sigh of relief as my latest date drove away (hopefully to never be heard from again). I remember coming home tired, and sad, and happy, and drunk (and I'm sorry, mom - when I fell down the basement stairs it wasn't clumsiness, it was gin). I remember as I grew older wanting so badly to get away from this house, to be on my own, and then once I was on my own, paying my rent and making my way, wishing for the relatively carefree life I had lived there.

There were bad times in this house too, of course. There were fights and long dark silences. There were family dramas. There were times of illness and fear. When my father left this house it was to move to the hospital where he died. The funny thing is, though, that all these memories have mingled and what I remember now the most is the good times, the best times. The times of laughter and joy. The dinner table discussions that new guests often found bewildering as they were surrounded by people talking all at once and trying to drown each other out. The summer barbecues that often went late into the evening and no one wanted to leave. The quiet meals with just my mother and father and I. Those are the memories I hold closest to my heart.

After my father died my mother lived in this house for another year and then sold it as she needed to move on with her life and downsize a bit. It was too large for her, too much maintenance, and honestly it wasn't good for her. I took my husband and daughter back to spend one final Christmas in the house in honour of all the holidays I had spent there. It was a very bittersweet Christmas that year.

After my mother died unexpectedly two years ago I went back to the house. I hadn't gone back before - I hadn't felt the need. With both my mother and father gone, though, I suppose I felt a bit rootless and needed to see the house. The new owners had changed many things. The cedar siding was repainted, doors and windows had been replaced, and the house looked...different. It looked good. It looked loved. My parents would have been pleased. Even more I was able to let go of the house and keep the memories because the house was clearly someone else's home now, and they appeared to love it as much as my parents did. The circle had closed, life had moved on, and so had the house. It was not my house. It was no longer home.

When I first heard the song below the very first thing that came to my mind was this house. As the song played I flashed through so many memories of this house, and of my family. I imagine when you hear it you may think of a different house and different memories. I think sometimes we discount those memories too quickly. Those memories, good and bad, are what make us who we are. Sometimes it's okay to revisit them - and to revisit those houses, too. Sometimes we just need to do that in order to say good-bye.

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