Yesterday afternoon, I carried the final load of my parents' belongings from the house they lived in for the vast majority of their married lives. The house I grew up in, the home that saw every triumph and failure of my childhood and young adult life, is now an empty shell.
And I feel pretty empty myself.
It could have been a scene from a movie. A rain so cold it was almost snow began to fall as I pulled out of the drive, and the opening notes of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" sounded on the radio. It was perfectly orchestrated to underline the poignancy of this task being finished at long last.
I carried much of this burden on my own. My sister could not help much. I dutifully bear the title of "The Strong One" and spent a couple of hours on every Sunday not occupied by being a Swim Mom sorting, throwing away, and carting to Goodwill three decades worth of accumulated possessions of two people who rarely if ever threw anything out.
Some Sundays were easier than others. I'm a librarian who loves to weed, and I had begged my mother for years to let me help her clean out her closets and the junk drawers. It was liberating at times to finally declutter a house that seemed to grow more spacious and less suffocating by the week.
But I never knew, from one Sunday to the next, what heartbreaking marker of my parents' lives I might find. One Sunday it was my father's love letters to my mother, written when he was stationed aboard a Sunoco oil tanker as a Merchant Marine. Another Sunday it was a spiral notebook of doodles and graffiti and tic-tac-toe games between my mother and Ainsley during one of Ainsley's many sleepovers. I uncovered every bill they'd ever paid, every cancelled check, every receipt for every appliance or home improvement project. Like a geologist studying rock layers, the further I dug, the further back in time I went. By the time I took out the last bags and boxes, I didn't know whether my Sundays in the house were making me feel incredibly old or like I was three years old again and seeing the house for the very first time.
More often than not I left with both my back and my heart sore from carrying so much weight. There were times I thought I couldn't hold any more.
But it is finished now. We have repairs to make, and a fresh coat of paint to apply, and then my childhood home will hopefully become someone else's.
Some other child will be lulled to sleep by the hum of cars passing on interstate, just down the hill. If I close my eyes, I can picture her. She will discover that the steep driveway is the perfect downhill start to a hot summer day's bike ride. She will spend balmy spring days under the shade of the wild black cherry tree, looking for caterpillars. She will lie awake on Christmas Eve night looking out of the little bedroom window at the red light on the top of the city building's radio tower and imagine that it's Rudolph leading the sleigh. She will watch the sun set through the kitchen window on clear fall evenings and marvel at how that moment makes the entire house glow.
It's a small little house, but it's capable of holding a lot of memories.