my mother told me today, about two hours before i left the house for the last time, that cleaning it out was ‘like an embalming process.’ amidst tears, she scrubbed the shower in our basement, explaining that to leave the house in disarray would be a dishonor to it. it is like a fifth member of the family. sixth, if you include our long-departed bassett.

We all dealt with saying goodbye in different ways. My father reminisced, and told stories of trying to sand-blast the fireplace and sheet-rock the living room ceiling. Mom scrubbed, and later allowed herself to be distracted by my brother’s stories.

Mike spoke about new beginnings and being grateful for the time we’ve spent here as a family.  And I stalked the grounds for details to photograph, worrying I wasn’t doing our home justice with my mediocre skills; unable to process what life will be like when for us when this home is gone.

I found myself drawn to spaces in our home that I did not frequent as a child. It may be because those usual places are already deeply written in my memory. Or, perhaps it could be that the places I found frightening then are now part its charm. Practicing the piano, in which I took lessons through sixth grade, I used to imagine a ghost would take a step across the living room with each mistake I made. It was a game I played: don’t make mistakes, and no ghost will ‘get’ me. (But problems arose whenever I learned a new song, such that the ghost had to start taking baby steps to ensure my safety.)

Similarly, every time late at night that I would start up our winding stairs, by the time I reached the top I was running up two-by-two. I didn’t believe that a ghost was chasing me up the stairs per se… but just in case one was, I was covered.

i don’t remember when these games i played stopped. and, i don’t remember when i transitioned from thinking about this house as just being the place where i lived to actually seeing it as a beautiful home, with gorgeous woodwork and details that only children notice, creaky and solid and full of space and grandeur and family.

The basement used to frighten me.  Daddy-long-legs and shadows inhabited corners, and the floor was cold. But today, even the basement–perhaps especially the basement–reminded me that I was in my home.

In a period of suspension, words fail. Ending this post (oh melodrama of melodramas) is another way of saying goodbye, like my hesitation before I walked down the steps of the front sidewalk the last time. Each moment that passes expands the time between our family home and our family. Everything points to death. The increasing darkness of each fall day seems to be pulling me into death, although not into depression. Simply: the dawn of my life is over. A generation has passed since I was born. And time will not stop. For the first time, I begin to feel the chipping of time into my life. Not everything is ahead of me anymore. And we are all leading to an end.

It is not such an awful thing, I suppose, my own death. What really frightens, of course, are the deaths of those around me. I know I am not the only person for whom death and time are twins, chipping away on our shoulders, exacting the moment in which their two paths will meet. The best we can hope for is noting, and loving, the details in the spaces between.


5 Comments on “embalm”

  1. Katie Van Wyngeeren says:

    I wonder how many “seasoned” people are reading this knowingly and just smiling because you have so simply put the revelation that everyone who has turned a life page is well aware.

    I think I understand.

    I have not had to say good-bye to my childhood home…yet, but I remember having to bid farewell to my home in Pella at 5yrs. when I had had little understanding that a place/home can become part of you…Or, the family station wagon in grade school. I shed tears. It’s not even that it’s the materiality that is appreciated, but the idea that you can never go back to the way it was. I think it is a learned skill to be able to release the past to accept the new. The best we have are the memories we keep…and share. Thank you for doing just that:)

  2. Irene says:

    i loved this post. i feel what you write. i bring to mind again the articulate, visionary woman i’m proud to call true friend.

    we may be heading towards death, with time chipping away, but i’m glad for the time gone–i’ve traded it for the memories i have. including those at the house pictured above, with you.


  3. Great – kinda awesome topic. I am goin to write about it also.

  4. Morgan Hubbard says:

    Al, this post was beautiful, and it made me think about my own childhood home. Homes are people, though not everyone realizes it, and I’m glad you put your thinking on yours into words.

  5. […] weekends ago I was helping my parents clean out some boxes from their move last year. We stumbled across some family pictures that I’d never seen before, of my grandparents, […]

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