I used to envy the hermit crab. Not only does he live at the beach, but he also carries around a hard protective shell. No matter where he goes, he takes his house with him. Us Expats, we uproot our lives, our families, and our sense of order. So the idea of bringing our house, that provides such protection, along with us is pretty appealing.
My parents are moving out of my childhood home this weekend. They have lived here for almost 38 years, moving in when my mom was heavy with her first child, my sister. Moving out just a year and a half after that same sister gave birth to a third child of her own.
My mom always wanted our big old house to be not just a big old empty house, but a gathering place for family and friends. And though she often lamented how rarely we actually used the whole house, I’d say that she and my dad certainly made it a home.
My parents raised two daughters in this house. They grew a marriage in this house. They loved and fought, hurt and healed in this house. They nurtured ailing grandparents back to health and ailing cousins back to smiles. They hosted my grandparents’ 40th anniversary, my aunt’s backyard wedding, elementary, middle and high school graduation celebrations, work picnics, string quartets, workshops – all in this house.
My mom spent hours in the basement the night before birthday parties weaving intricate spider webs from yarn with a specially picked prize for each child at the end. My Dad spent hours in the basement helping us to construct elaborate school projects and science fair exhibits (we even got to use the blow torch)! The basement has served as playroom, classroom, workroom, and storage. We bobbed for apples in this basement. Played school with the giant chalkboard. Created castles out of oversized boxes. Constructed towns out of blocks. Wrote plays, performed plays, and argued over plays in this basement.
Together, as a family, we watched the passing of the seasons – tromping thru snowdrifts, leaping into leaf piles, skipping thru sprinklers, and stomping in the rain. I learned to throw and catch a ball on the garage rooftop while my sister perfected her tumbling thru the freshly mowed grass. We carved giant pumpkins in the driveway, built birdhouses in the basement, planted vegetables in the garden, and made forts below the swing-set.
We dyed Easter eggs, lit menorahs, decorated Christmas trees, and searched for afikomans. I was a witch, a hippie, a gypsy, and Smurfette. My sister was a clown, a cheerleader, and a Bounty Paper Towel Roll (no kidding – see slideshow).
I broke my first bone in this house. Met my first friends at this house. Kissed my first love near this house. I argued over piano practice, while my sister dutifully whispered tunes from her flute in this house. We studied multiplication tables and languages, literature and history. We returned from overnight camp and college to this house.
I equally feared and found comfort in the familiar creaks and groans of this house, running quickly down to the basement, up to the attic and past the closed guest bedroom door. Planning hiding places and plotting escapes, packing bags to run away. While my mom found quiet on the back porch, my dad retreated to his office and my sister found peace in her room, I lazed on the plush deep red carpet that ran the length of the house, lingering between the need for solitude and companionship.
We battled with ourselves, with each other, with our friends in this house. We ached and cried and hurt in this house. We buried pets and flushed fish. My dad fought tumors – my mom nursed him back. My mom hurt her back. My dad held her up. We said farewell to neighbors and welcomed new families.
My sister and I used to joke that we hoped we would never have to help our parents move out of this house. There would be 40 years of stuff to sort through. But as we approach that final meal, that final sleep, and that final turn of the key, I realize that it’s not the stuff that we’re sorting, but the memories. And though it’s sad and even a little painful to say goodbye to a house that’s been so good to us for so long, I’m pretty sure that we’re bringing home wherever we go.
I used to envy the hermit crab for his ability to carry his house wherever he went. But that must get pretty heavy over time. For what it’s worth, if given the choice, I’d choose to carry the home and leave the house behind.