My mother still lives in the 1963-built home in which my brother Michael and I grew up. My family was the first owner, and, so far, the only one. Though my brain knows that the day will come when that house no longer is ours, my heart can’t wrap its head around that fact. I’ve never honestly confronted the commonplace fact that houses change hands, and life goes on.
Today I was honored and delighted to spend a perfect summer evening with the lovely family that bought the house in which my (now ex-) husband and I raised our two wonderful children. The young mom of the family and I were introduced to one another by a mutual friend not long after they moved in, and we have been in touch ever since.
A week or so ago, she contacted me to ask whether I would like to have the cement blocks in which my children had impressed their names and hand-prints when they were tiny. When I said of course I would, she invited me to come over for a swim and a bonfire. So, this evening, I hopped in the top-down Jeep and drove back to what used to be my house, but now is not.
I was looking forward to it — but also apprehensive. I left my marriage and my house in a hurry, and I never had a chance to say goodbye to the place or to properly grieve its loss. I knew that visiting — visiting! — would likely stir emotion.
This was the home in which we experienced and celebrated Christmases, birthdays, the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic (which somehow became a major holiday in our household), sleepovers, movie nights, the baking of thousands of cookies/cupcakes/foccaccio/pizzas/baguettes, Thanksgiving meals, The Simpsons and The Office and Arrested Development and countless other family favorites, the New Year’s Eves, the basement door on which we marked the kids’ heights….So much happens in a house.
This particular house had a long history before we ever met it. It was built in 1875 to accommodate dairy workers at a farm that was located down the street and across the street from where the house stands today. The people we bought it from had rescued it; recognizing its quirky Victorian beauty, they had it moved to a 3-acre plot with a swampy yard, a verdant meadow, and a wooded stream. They restored it and made it a beautiful home, even installing an in-ground pool. But it was, and is, a home with many challenges.
From the moment I saw a real-estate photo of the house and grounds, I was smitten. Against all logic, I pressed to purchase the place, despite abundant evidence that it was a money pit and a poor investment for us. But buy it we did, and we spent more than 20 happy years there.
Among so many other things, we planted a weeping mulberry tree, under whose canopy the kids played; Sophie made a heart-shaped sign to hang from the trunk: “Home Sweet Tree.”
When I talked with my son Charlie about how apprehensive I was, he said, with his characteristic wisdom, “That house was another family’s home before it was ours, and it was lots of people’s home before that, and now it’s another family’s home. We’re just part of that house’s history.”
I thought about that as I floated in what used to be OUR pool, enjoyed the blaze emanating from what used to be OUR firepit, watched new dogs and children race around the yard OUR dogs and children used to race around. And Home Sweet Tree? It’s grown three sizes, and the little boys who live there now have a proper fort therein!
What an incredible legacy to be part of. How grateful I am to have been invited back, this time as a guest in the home of this family that clearly loves our home as much as we did.