Locking the Door for the Last, Last Time

Today I left our old house in Redford for the very last time. Tomorrow (finally) we will finalize the sale of the home to a young couple with a two-year old son named Jackson. The circumstances of the sale were made in heaven (thank you St. Joseph, patron saint of homes).  During the final stages of the major clean-out process, our next door neighbor came knocking at the door.  "Are you getting ready to put the house up for sale?" he asked.

Yes, we answered, already filled with trepidation about dealing with realtors and regulations and mortgage companies.

"My son and daughter in law are really interested," he replied. "If they like it, we could do the deal without involving the real estate."

Wonder of wonders, they took one 15 minute look and they were sold. And so were we.

Easy as pie.

How blessed can you get?

So now we are about to relinquish the Rowan family homestead - the property my father in law purchased in 1948 and the brick home home he built in 1952. And today, I took one last walk through the empty house, and said my goodbyes.

To the living room where I walked the floor with a cranky baby, played my piano for hours on end, unwrapped Christmas presents for 36 years, and drank my morning coffee while I watched the sun come up.

To the bedroom where we slept night after night, where our son was conceived and where we lay, sleepless,  waiting for the sound of his car in the driveway when he was a teenager.

To Brian's room, where he played and drew pictures and wrote stories and made recordings, where he littered the floor with stuffed animals and books and vinyl record albums and Hot Wheels cars.

To the kitchen - oh the kitchen, where I cooked countless pot roasts and casseroles, made innumerable pots of coffee (first in Corning Ware percolators, and then in those new fangled Mr. Coffee machines), washed hundreds of dishes, unloaded tons of groceries.

To the back porch, where I sat in the mornings listening to a symphony of birdsong and watching rabbits play across the grass, rushing to squeeze through their escape hatch under the fence as soon as Magic or Molly would take off after them.

And to the clotheslines, where each week I hung sheets to whip dry in the summer sun and brought them in warm and fresh to put on the bed. I miss the clotheslines a lot.

I even said goodbye to the basement (although I always hated the basement), and the laundry tub where I washed my hair and bathed my dogs.

I have to believe it's a rare thing in this modern world for people to live in the same home their entire married lives - even rarer still when that's the house where you were born.  I don't think life in these United States lends itself to that kind of longevity or continuity. It's expected that you will want more than the "old things" your parents had, that you will continually strive for bigger and better houses, and cars, and vacations. People move all over the country and even the world, traveling wherever their relationships and jobs might take them, looking for the next big thing.

Perhaps it's part of our oddball nature, but we never felt any particular tug for a bigger or better home. Our little house suited us fine. And with every passing year and every increasing ache or pain, it became more and more difficult to imagine the rigors of moving two family lifetimes worth of stuff to another place.

But there are times in life when the need for change becomes palpable, when the yearning for something fresh and new insistently clamors for attention and can no longer be ignored. It took a long time for that to happen to us, but finally it did.

And here we are, saying goodbye to the house.

We've lived in our condo for almost a year now, long enough to feel like we belong, long enough to know we love it, long enough to feel confident we are in the right place. There were no tears today as I walked through the hallways, turned off the lights, and locked the door for the last time.

Just my spirit saying a quiet thank you  for sheltering me and the people I love.

Forty Year Old Canned Fruit, and a Word of Advice

There's a fruit cellar in the basement of our old house in Redford, right at the foot of the stairs. My father in law bought the property in 1949 when the neighborhood was nothing more than a large apple orchard, being sold off in parcels for eventual development. For two years he had his own little farm on the land, selling the fruits and vegetables he harvested from the trunk of his car to his co-workers at the Chrysler Assembly Plant in downtown Detroit. In 1952, he built the house, and I imagine that adding a basement fruit cellar was a big priority in the planning. My father in law was a farmer through and through, so like a photographer needs a darkroom or a dancer needs a barre and mirror, he needed a fruit cellar to contain the "fruits" of his labors. SAMSUNGI always hated that fruit cellar. When my in-laws moved out and we moved in, they left behind a number of useful appliances and furniture, stuff all newlyweds need and are happy to have provided for them. But they also left behind a lot of junk, stuff we couldn't get rid of while they were living, and by the time they died we were too busy or too tired to care about it. Over the 37 years we lived there, naturally we added our own stuff to the mix. In the fruit cellar, along with odd assortments of dishware, some old easter baskets with fake grass spilling out, an ancient rotary telephone, and some musty books, there were still a few jars of fruit my mother in law had canned sitting on the top shelf, the year it was placed there scrawled underneath in my father-in-law's handwriting.

During this past week the entire remaining contents of our old house have been removed. The upstairs rooms were mostly cleared already, but the basement and garage - repositories of six decades worth of stuff - are now completely empty.

Including the fruit cellar.

Over the past few months I've completed a major purge of our possessions, paring down the contents of two homes to fit into one 1900 square foot condominium. It's not been easy, but is HAS been incredibly freeing. I literally feel 100 pounds lighter without the burden of all that STUFF.

Don't get me wrong, it was difficult as hell to get rid of things that were an integral part of your life for almost four decades. How to decide which of your child's school papers and drawings to keep and which to toss? How to choose which paintings from the walls will work in the new house? How to grapple with the fact that your circa 1973 stereo equipment is worth more (financially) than your baby grand piano?

Since I turned 50, I've had a real sea change in my feelings about possessions. No longer  do I crave the latest fashion in clothes, or a purse to match every pair of shoes. I'm don't care about souvenir coffee cups from the places I visit. It doesn't matter if I have different placemats for every season, or a different teapot for every day of the week. I have moved out of the collecting phase of my life and into the dispersing stage, knowing that as we age, we need less and less to survive, and that possessions are not what make us happy.

As I went through everything we owned, picking and choosing what to keep, the things that consistently ended up in the Save piles were photographs, jewelry, and books.

Photographs are obvious - they capture moments in time, moments that were obviously important enough to preserve. They reflect the essence of people at all stages of their lives. They are incredibly meaningful to me.

My relationship with jewelry goes back to preschool days when I asked for a ring for my 5th birthday. My uncle bought me a tiny gold ring with and aquamarine stone in it. I wore it all the time, loved seeing it on my chubby little finger while I typed stories on the old Smith Corolla in the attic. I developed a nervous habit of taking it off and chewing it, so the band is slightly dented in the back, making it uncomfortable to wear.

Yes, I still have it, and it does fit on my baby finger.

As for books- you all know how I feel about books. But I will say that I must have donated 200 books to the library over the past six months. But I also saved out a selection of children's books that belonged to my son during his lifetime, books that I've begun to pass on to my grandson, who is a true bookworm just like has grandma.

So for those of you who are still in the collecting phase, my advice to you is start thinking about what really matters in your life, what are the things you want to carry into old age with you. Will it be trendy outfits or cute figurines from the gift shop? Will you find smoothie makers and cupcake makers and coffeemakers to be essential to the life you want to live?

Or will it be things that have memory and meaning attached, things that evoke a person, time, or place, things that reflect who you've become and how you got there?

Certainly 40 year old canned fruit doesn't fit into any of those categories.




Betwixt and Between

So here I am. Sitting at my desk on the second floor at Brookwood Court, watching the leaves fluttering outside the window as dusk settles over the rose colored sky.

We’re slowly getting our bearings in this new space, working out the traffic patterns for getting dressed in the morning, exercising the gray matter every time we need a coffee cup, an aspirin, a pair of socks. (Which cupboard? What drawer?) Not only is our house different, but so is most of our furniture because we used the pieces that were in our home in Florida. And while we’re familiar with them, we didn’t live with them for long periods of time.

There is a difference.

One of the things I was hungry for when I moved was the opportunity to change my routine. I felt stagnant, so mired in the same way of doing things. When you live one place for 37 years, your patterns become like cement. I thought moving would be a good way to shake them up.

Boy, was I right about that. And it’s exciting to have this clean slate to work with.

I won’t kid you - I sometimes long for my other house, my old familiar life. Especially in the evening when darkness starts to fall and I start getting tired. Time to go home, I find myself thinking. Time to put the dogs out in the yard for one last potty stop, time to close the blinds in the living room. Time to pour a glass of wine and curl up in my reading chair. Time to  settle on the couch in the breezeway to watch TV.

It will take time before this really feels like home. I know that. Clearly I am still betwixt and between, my body learning to live in and love Brookwood Court, my heart still yearning a little for the familiarity of MacArthur Street and all the memories there.

So I shed a few tears and move on. Take the dogs for a walk around the block. Climb the stairs to my writing desk between the two corner windows. Retract the awning over the deck and lock up the doorwall. Pour a glass of wine and settle on the couch in the den to watch TV.

These are the things I do over and over until one day it will be home.


Write On Wednesday: Editor at Large

This process of moving house has become an exercise in revision. For weeks, I’ve been going over all my possessions with a fine tooth comb - must I have four sets of casserole dishes? five travel mugs? half a dozen different styles of placemats? How many black purses do I really need? So I red-pencil items like a good editor would do extraneous words, consigning them to trash bags, donation bins, Craig’s List.

It’s been surprisingly easy to jettison all this baggage, and I feel lighter and freer by the moment. I’m almost loathe to take anything at all to the new house, am delighted at the thought of being pared down to the most bare of essentials.

That’s what a well-written piece of writing is like, isn’t it? Pared down to bare essentials.

The key is knowing what words are essential.

“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components,” writes William Zinsser in On Writing Well, a copy of which I found buried in a chest of drawers in my bedroom during yesterday’s cleaning. “Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb which carries the same meaning that is already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what - these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence."


Like my cupboards overflowing with coffee mugs and dresser drawers spilling scarves, socks, and costume jewelry, Zinsser shakes a red-ink stained finger at clutter - “the disease of American writing.”  Clear your head of it, he exhorts the writer. “Clear thinking becomes clear writing."

But I can’t help but wonder (a phrase Zinsser would strike right through with red pen) - can things be too clear? Does writing stripped so clean and uncluttered lack some undefinable personality, a spark of cachet to endear it to the reader? This comes to mind as I peruse the top of my piano, the family photographs, the crystal candlesticks, the tiny sculpture of a woman with arms spread wide in joy. Each of these items could be classified as clutter, yet each one means something to me. Like beautiful, descriptive language, each one adds a touch of beauty to the room.

It’s a fine line, this process of revision.

What to leave in. What to leave out.

While my impulse at this moment is to clear out all the clutter, when all is said and done will I survey my surroundings and feel that something is missing?

The challenge is to strike a balance between the two.

I hope I’m up for it.


The End of Summer

  In my mind, Labor Day weekend always marks the emotional end of summer.

The first imprecations of autumn have already begun creeping in. Though there will still be plenty of hot days, still be plenty of occasions for wearing shorts and sandals, there is an undeniable hint of chill in the morning air. Dusk falls faster and earlier. Clothes take longer to dry on the line.

Things are changing, friends.

This weekend I will put up my summer purse, lay aside my white sandals and shorts.

I will place mountainous pots of yellow mums on the front porch at Brookwood Court.

I will search out t-shirts and blouses in colors like sage and cranberry and ochre.

I will open a brand new spiral notebook, take out a shiny new pen for new stories to write.

Soon I will also cut back the dried hostas and daylilies for the very last time.

Wind up the backyard clotheslines, perhaps forever.

Put the old back porch chairs out front on trash day.

The emotional end of summer this year is also a rather emotional end of my last full season in this house. I am mindful now of all the things I do for the last time. There is still a sense of unreality to it, this moving business. Even though this week I emptied all the drawers in my writing room desk, transferred the clothes from the winter closet to the new house instead of to their home in my bedroom here. There are bags and boxes scattered throughout the rooms here, separated for trash, for donation, for re-homing to Brookwood Court.

When people ask me if I’ve moved yet, I keep saying that “it’s a process.”

Like the changing of the seasons, little things are happening which herald the big change to come.

Emotional endings, all around.