{Homely House}


Perhaps it's only fitting that all the hoopla surrounding Peter Jackson's new set of Tolkien films has come up now, stirring up with it, distant memories of my childhood:

... My father, reading The Hobbit to me every night before bed, in Paris and then in my little room in Brussels.

... Pretending to be a hobbit in my mother's plaid hooded cape, hiding out in the back yard, with a ring on a chain to stand in for the One Ring.

... Unable to stand the suspense any longer, turning the light back on after my father had left, and skipping forward, desperate to read more.

... Dad taking us to see the animated film that came out in the late seventies and being terrifed all over again of the Balrog.

These books are in part responsible for teaching me to read. I was four years old when Dad started on The Hobbit. Two years later I was swallowing up The Fellowship of the Ring and looking forward eagerly to the day when I would turn the pages of The Two Towers and Return of the King.

Twenty years later, the books are old favorites -- somewhat the worse for wear, but like old friends on a rainy day, that brighten up everything and bring me back to happier, more innocent times.

I am very much looking forward to seeing these films. I've been keeping an eye on all of the fan sites, eating up the associated news, but avoiding spoilers like the plague.

In the meantime, back at home, my own, last Homely House, is slowly, but surely turning into a shell of what it once was.

The house is sold, the walls painted freshly white. Most of the curtains are down. The lists of things to keep and things to sell, things to store and things to put out on the kerb are made. The boxes are stacked in the garage, waiting to be filled with fifteen years' worth of memories and posessions. Some of them have already been pressed into service, taking their orders from my mother, the marshal in charge of it all.

Two weekends ago, I went up to begin the process of cleaning out my room. I began to make the difficult decisions: what can I take ... what must go ... how much can go into storage ... how much must wind up on the trash heap of my family's history?

I went up again this weekend, to bring the job closer to the finish line. The bookcases are completely bare, the closet's contents dumped out onto the floor and sorted into neat piles: "keep," "sell," "trash."

My things, my memories, my life, taken out of the safe haven of my room, laid out for analysis and redistribution.

It hurts.

I didn't expect it to hurt quite so much -- it's just that the sale happened so quickly, the need to decide came up so fast that it's left me with my head spinning.

As of August 27th the house is no longer ours. Everything that we lived between those walls, will be irrevocably part of an untouchable past. It's time to say good-bye, bid the last of my childhood a fond farewell and commit myself totally to the present that I live in.

Never again will I be able to curl up in the safety of my bed, in my room, with my parents right down the hall and the sound of the wind, tossing the heads of the trees outside. Never again will I look up at the moon, framed between two criss-crossed branches and the angle of my windowpane. Never again wake up to the sound of the garage door opening, early in the morning, as my mother steps out to get the milk out of the box and fetch in the paper.

All of that, wiped away by signatures on a dotted line.

And rightfully so: Ted leaves for college next week, the last child to hop out of the nest. Tom shares a house with roommates now, out in Pittsburgh near his school. And I? It's been three and a half years since I graduated from Smith, seven and a half since I graduated from high school. It's been nearly five years since I lived at home full time. What are my parents supposed to do with a five-bedroom, neo-colonial farmhouse near all of the areas best public schools?

It's time.

I just had no idea, it would be so hard to say good-bye.

Last night as I dozed off beneath the quilt and afghan that have sheltered me from night terrors for years, I thought I could hear echoes of our childish voices calling out to each other in the last yard. The giggles and squeals rose up to me, as a phantom game of "Prisoner" unfolded through the firefly-laden air. Faces, long-moved on to other places, dancing before me, bringing with them, sweet memories of a childhood well-spent.

I could see Zoe, walking down the hill through the pine trees at the edge of the next door neighbors' property again. Striding as she always used to, my best friend, coming down the road from her house, to spend an afternoon sharing secrets, telling stories and making up worlds for our fancies to live in.

Today, I sorted through all of the letters and cards, the mementoes, the beach pebbles, the collections of stamps, the papers from junior and senior high school, the binders from college, the pictures, the toys, the little league trophies and the academic plaques. I hid some of them away the boxes, laid others in the garage sale heap, filled up a garbage bag and fingered each piece of paper, each thing lovingly as I made the decision. Every object in my room is laden with some sight, sound, thought from my past, each a part of who I am today.

Those memories, those meanings are all coming with me, since they are always with me.

But the house, in whose shelter I felt so safe, must finally be left behind, passed onto another family, another set of childish faces, childish voices, to come out an play another day.

While I realize that this is so, and right and just another part of life.

It is hard and it is sad and it hurts, to say good-bye.

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