Requiem for my Childhood Home
The house I grew up in was torn down last week. In a day, the place I called home for half a century was reduced to rubble. I found out about it on Facebook.
The news was not entirely unexpected, but it still hit me like a sucker punch. I thought about the door to the linen closet – upon which my mother had faithfully recorded in pencil the heights of me and my brothers over the years – reduced to splinters. And the chandelier under which we had eaten thousands of meals exploding into tiny chards of glass. I wondered if the bulldozers had plowed right over the Japanese maple that had flourished on our watch from a knee-high sapling to a tree of beauty and girth. Fifty years of memories reduced to rubble.
A year ago, when my family sold the house, I wrote a version of the story below for the Associated Press. At the time it was a how-to on dismantling your childhood home. Today it is a requiem.
When it came time to dismantling my childhood home, there was something about my mother’s wedding dress that put me over the edge.
Mellowed to a uniform shade of custard, it sat in the box it had been stored in for over six decades. Dislodged from its attic perch, it was shuttled around from room to room as my brothers and I chipped away at belongings our parents had collected over a lifetime.
After my mother passed away, my father stuck it out in the house I grew up in for as long as he could. But his move to assisted living required the next generation to step up and empty the family home as quickly as possible.
We divided heirlooms; collected papers; identified items to be sold, stored, donated. We took so many trips to the dump that they told us not to come back.
The process was not without its high points. A sentimental collector, my mother’s house was full of clutter. You never knew what might be lurking in a drawer or closet. In one dresser I found a ziplock baggie full of baby teeth (all, presumably, collected by the tooth fairy), the New York Times from the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and my grandmother’s Armenian bible, dated 1906;
The sheer volume of letters and memorabilia my parents saved was both staggering and heartwarming. That haiku I wrote in 3rd grade, the parent-teacher conference report that revealed my trouble with homonyms, the Valentine’s day puzzle I cut out by hand.
Over the course of a few months we thinned out the contents of the house. Throughout this process, I fell in to one of two modes: cold-blooded purger or weepy sentimentalist. With ice running through my veins, I discarded Jose – the monkey head carved out of a coconut I got as a Christmas present in 1968. My mother’s complete collection of Gourmet magazines – gone. I made the executive decision not to save my grandfather’s crumbling medical diploma.
But my icy efficiency could melt suddenly and unexpectedly. I froze when it came to my mother’s wedding dress, which was moved from one room to the next until the house stood empty. In the end, I took it home to stash it in my attic. Perhaps my own children will deal with it in the decades to come.
One year after I wrote this piece, many of the “things” I grew up with are in my own home. A cupboard, a lamp – even a spoon can trigger a memory. This is no small comfort. But it is hard to picture a hole where my house once stood. I had imagined other generations calling that place home. Making their own marks on the linen closet.