September 13, 2007

On Saying Goodbye to a House

I spent last week down in Texas packing up my childhood house. My parents built the place when I was 12 and ever since it’s been home for me. When we moved there the roads were dirt and the nearest neighbor was over a mile away. 28 years later the woods behind the house are still wild full of coyotes and snake and deer, but the city has moved closer, other mailboxes dot the road, and the nights are less dark. It is hard to pack up a house you have lived in so long. What do do with the junk drawer by the kitchen not so much full of junk, but of small memories?

And this house had another burden. It was where my mother and brother died. With them much of the life of the house was frozen. My mother was constantly reinventing the place, in fact she had planned to build a new house and sell this one, but my dad, after the deaths, perhaps out of comfort or perhaps out of a need to hold on, changed very little. So for the last 17 years the house has been almost a museum piece. My room was exactly as I left it when I drove away to college. My brother Christopher’s room remained full of his unfinished model planes, a kite ready to fly, and stacks of astronomy magazines none dated later than 1989. What do do with all this stuff, so sentiment-laden and yet inert?

I received the call that the house was sold and I was needed to pack it up at the worst possible time. We’re moving here too (just a few blocks away but of course we still have to pack everything), so instead of the normal amount of time we would give ourselves to do such a job, we only had 3 days. I was dreading the flight, dreading the 2 hour drive from Houston, dreading the drive into the dark pines. We flew into thunderstorm-the type of pounding rain and violent thunder you only see in Texas. The drive was long, but of course familiar and pulling into the driveway I was, as always, shocked by the size of the trees. The house is surrounded by forest but the trees close to the house were planted by us. I remember the magnolia as a sapling. Now it towers some 30 feet. The dogwoods have canopies. The holly tree is so big some limbs have fallen. The heat at this time of year in Texas was oppressive and lends a heavy quiet to things. The dirt dobbers were busy building their mud tubes. Hummingbirds were buzzing everywhere. There have always been hummingbirds.

Opening the door, the slight cedar smell overwhelmed. I was home. I looked down at my childhood handprint in one of the tiles on the floor. My 2 1/2 year old ran into the house, "Daddy’s old house", going from room to room, pulling toys and books from the shelves, and mixing things up that had been so carefully kept apart for years. Within minutes he had set up a fort of sorts and was happily engrossed. And seeing him playing in rooms that have not been enjoyed in so long suddenly made the whole task easier. We would be clearing the way for another family to live there—to fill the place with their stories as we once did before the house became immobilized in memory. With that thought, it became easier to give away what needed to be given away, to pack what needed to be packed, and to finally say goodbye.

posted at 12:06 AM by raul

Filed under: daily life

TAGS: house (3) lufkin (9) melancholy (1) texas (9) wortham circle (1)


09/13/07 02:06 PM

As always, beautiful writing. But more beautiful still is the way you make sense of your life. The last paragraph is unexpected and heartwarming, serene. Good luck with all the movement.

09/13/07 09:13 PM

I was actually in your house one time. I filmed a short video for English IV (Macbeth, Act 1 Scene III) with Eddie and some other folks. We did it over across the road at a pond, I seem to remember an abandoned well.

Was hoping for some Lufkin pictures, missing those pines. :)

Love the site.


09/13/07 09:42 PM

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with us.

09/13/07 11:35 PM

I love the last part too, that your kid playing in the house you grew up in cheering you up and giving you hope that the next family will have their lovely moments filling the house.

Life goes on, as we looking ahead full of hopes and promises while holding close to our hearts the past memories. Life surely goes on.

Thanks for sharing.

09/14/07 09:04 AM

I wonder–and maybe it's a selfish wonder–if you took photos of those rooms where former lives and lives cut short were frozen.

Because you write well and vividly, I can construct imagined rooms but I still have that wonder.

09/14/07 09:26 AM

Closing up my parents house after my mom died was one of the hardest things I've ever done. In a way, it was harder than the death itself (she was very suffering from cancer and welcomed death). This post brought it all back (in a good way). People complain about the internet being the death of culture but I get more from your blog than I have from any book I've read recently.

09/14/07 10:18 AM

Dear Raul,

I think your writing, blog and not to mention your pictures are super...

thank you


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