On Thursday my father closed on his house. The house that was once my parents’ house. The house where my mom died. Our house. My house.
When you’re a kid you say come over to my house, right? You don’t own it, and you can’t control what goes on there, but the place you think of as home is yours completely and specifically and forever. How does that happen? Maybe it’s because the place you were thinking of never quite existed to begin with, but remains protected, elsewhere, free of encumbrances and requiring no maintenance.
For 44 years the dwelling at 1177 Prospect Road was the one place I knew I could always return to: much as I refused it, much as I would never. In the weeks we’ve been helping my father move out, I had trouble rustling up memories and in writing this came to realize, weirdly and surprisingly, that I only really lived there for five years. We moved in in 1970. After I left for college in 1975 I came and went for short spells: after I quit school, between the Ford F150 journeys, after I got divorced. But I never stayed for long. Still, it seemed my permanent address.
At the closing the buyer told me his children were very excited about moving in. The house is cottage-like, cozy or much too small, depending on how you look at it. The front door opens right into the living room, where on one wall there’s a stone fireplace surrounded by dark wormy chestnut panelling, carriage lights, and small windows. Real wood – real stone. I was excited to move in, too. I loved that wall. The hearth. Though I can’t exactly remember why, I was positive that if I could just live in such a magical space my life would change. And it did. I turned 13 that year and came out of my only-child shell, started to understand, for better and for worse, what it meant to have friends and be among people. Finally, I was abroad in the world. Whether this had anything at all to do with the house, I can’t say. Now I’m thinking it served as a launching pad, of sorts.
It’s been a while since I participated in a closing, something that I did a lot when I was a paralegal and had to keep track of the comings and goings of many papers and signatures. Thursday I mostly watched, and assured my father that final sewage or water bills are usually wrong. The closing-firm lawyer was quick and efficient and everything was easy. One of the real estate agents had a very shiny bald head set off by slick black goggles, which are in fact glasses, I think, albeit with the added bonus of creating a super hero effect. He wore a classy-looking peachy orange shirt with S O L D monogrammed on his left cuff.
Even though my father did not have a lot of stuff, as is always the calculus of such circumstances he had more stuff than we thought. He has a lot of tools. Now his tools live at my house, among my books, of which he thinks there are far too many.
Here are some good things I remember: laying on the side porch in the metal glider, protected by the trees, sinking into the cushions, rocking and dozing for hours on warm afternoons. Sitting on the couch in the living room kissing my boyfriend, Ed. Ah, such good kisses those were, too. Standing at the kitchen counter after school, eating Tahiti Cookies with Rachel. The smell of freshly-cut plywood drifting up from the basement, accompanied by the sharp noise of one of my father’s saws. Sitting wedged in the small space between the couch and the coffee table and the fireplace, where it was warm and I could stay hidden while still in plain sight. Just enough.