Last fall, I wrote a column about my family home and the emotions tied to saying goodbye. I declared that “at the end of the day, it’s just bricks and mortar.”
But with the sale of our family home, it turns out that the physical act of walking out of that pile of bricks and mortar for the last time was a lot more difficult than I anticipated.
I suppose it’s the last tangible link to my mom, and walking through those rooms for the last time, I tried to absorb every ounce of energy from every single room in the place my family has called home for 50 years.
And then hugging my dad and sister before getting in my car to drive back to Vernon, I broke down. And then we were all in tears. I know that it is just a house and that my family — with the same familiar things — will be who I come home to, just in a different house.
During my week home, a good chunk of our time was spent going through stuff. And if you’ve lived in the same house for five decades, there is a lot of stuff. My parents entertained a lot, so there was a lot of stuff that was used at their many dinner parties. The fondue pot from the ‘60s, along with long, wood-handled forks, still in their blue Birks box; the special tea cups my mom used to serve after-dinner coffee.
Each time we opened a cupboard, more keepsakes appeared. We picked out the things that we wanted to keep, and many trips were made to the Salvation Army thrift store, but not before my daughter went through everything and picked out the pieces she wanted to keep. She chose many of her baba’s special tea cups and lovingly wrapped them in newspaper.
But it was the lifetime of cards and letters that proved a little trickier. Opening boxes, we found a treasure trove: letters I had written to my grandparents saved by my mom; a get-well card my sister made for my mom; report cards; little notes my mom wrote and stuck in special bottles of wine to remember the occasion, such as the night her first grandchild was born; or the day my brother turned 21.
But what do you do with it all? When we found an enormous birthday card I made for my sister to mark her 13th birthday, we laughed at the pictures I had cut out of Tiger Beat magazine, along with the captions I added, but then we tossed it into the recycling bin.
Once we started tossing things, it became easier. I have suitcases filled with cards and letters I can’t bear to part with. And yet I haven’t looked at any of them in years.
My friend and former colleague, Brenda Giesbrecht, sent me a note this week asking for friends to share childhood memories, sparked by her recent trip to her hometown, and the following line particularly resonated for me: “I am compelled to hunt out the places I knew that are still around, the ones that anchor me and tell me that yes, this once was a place I knew well, and the finding helps affirm some part of me, some part of who I am.”
I suppose holding onto cards and letters gives us that link to childhood, that need to hold onto our memories, whether they are places we used to live or pieces of paper that remind us of joyful events in our lives and of places that are no longer there.
The day before we left Vancouver, I took my daughter to one of her favourite playgrounds, which happens to be at my old elementary school. The playground has changed since I was there, but the school looks the same. I was hit with the realization, yet again, of the swift passage of time. It seems like five minutes ago that I was playing there with my friends at the same age my daughter is now.
But you can’t live in the past. And most of the time I’m busy creating a happy childhood for my own child and being present in the life I’m living now.
The life my parents gave us, one of love and laughter, is what I return to when I go home. It’s not that all of my childhood memories are happy ones — no one goes through life unscathed — but when I am home that is all I remember.
The next time I go home, I will take a different exit off the highway, but I will return to the same family that I love. And in a new house in a new neighbourhood, we will create new memories.