I’ve had many sleepless nights since my Dad passed away, trying to decide what to do. The questions seem so big and so endless. The one question that has perhaps plagued me the most is… What do I do with his house… with Mom’s house… with the Dancing Nannies’ house… my quiet sanctuary and get away? This was the oasis where we met – our home away from home. This was where meals were prepared, conversations were had, and sleep-overs abounded. This was where Ben and Katya and David learned how to swim, to cook, to play cribbage, to dance.
Do I keep my father’s house or sell it?
Keeping it allows me to hang on to Mom and Dad a while longer. The house is “their” home and it is full of memories. How can I sell it and allow someone else into their own piece of Heaven? How can I move things that my Mom so carefully put into place so that it was “perfect” for her own style and taste? The image of the “beautiful lady” that hangs on the wall screams a memory to me. Mom loved this print that she saw hanging in Auntie Helen’s house so much. Auntie Helen bought her a copy of her own and sent it to Mom. Every morning at the breakfast table, Mom would admire the beautiful lady.
How can I move the Royal Dalton figurines that Mom had collected over the years? They are a collection. Each holds a memory. One came from Mom’s mom and was so carefully guarded over the years. I remember that wherever “Autumn Breezes” was I had to be very careful to not knock it or bump it. Every time I dusted I was cautioned, “Be careful with my figurines”. Each time someone sat in the chair next to them, they were told, “Watch your elbow”. In spite of every precarious living movement that family and guests made – the figurines have survived. Here they sit – on the bureau – all together. How can I pull them apart? How can I randomly decide their fate?
The white birch painting by Jacqueline Algee… maybe she wasn’t so famous, but she was a friend of Mom and Dad’s. Her paintings are wonderful. I remember Mom commenting, “How beautiful those birch trees are! They remind me of the farm.” Her favorite tree was the birch. How can I take it down from the wall facing her chair? Will it be appreciated as much in any other home? Do I give it to someone else or keep it so that it can re-create discussions in my own home with my own family?
And those dishes! They are so carefully tucked away in the cabinet. “They are hand-painted, Stacey. You can’t buy those dishes anymore.”, I remember so clearly was Mom’s message to me. “One day, they will be yours.” I’d really rather Mom than those dishes – but somehow the dishes had out-lived her. What will they be when they are removed from that cabinet? Where will they go? Will they bear witness again to so many wonderful dinner conversations as they did in our family growing up? Will they sample such good meals as my Mom prepared for them during Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter?
The stereo cabinet. What of that? When Jamie, my brother, was younger he was into wood-working. This cabinet was a gift from him to Mom and Dad. Dad had cut down this beautiful tree when we lived on the property – black walnut – or cherry? I don’t really know as Mom changed the type of wood each time she told the story of how Dad chopped the tree and then took it to a local mill to have it dried and cut. Jamie took the wood and formed it into “this” cabinet that Mom cried over when paramedics moved and broke it while trying to get Dad to the hospital after one of his episodes. Tessie’s husband fixed it – months after Mom’s death – and it just felt like all was right again. On top of this stereo cabinet sits a display of Mom and Dad’s travels: the man from Quebec, the character from Marguerita Island, the Samovar from Mom’s brother who brought it back from Russia… and finally the photos of our kids growing up. My children were displayed on the cabinet and Jamie’s on the end tables. How can I split up this display of memories?
I went to the house yesterday (to be honest it is a condo, but it feels more like a house) as the first step in my journey to negotiate the decision. I was alone. I poured Dad a glass of wine and had one myself. His pink chair was gone and so the ceremony didn’t seem quite so real. I walked into his bedroom, but the sheets were piled on the bed beside his and the comfort quilt from the church had been removed and washed and so the visit didn’t seem quite so real. I walked into the pantry where “Mom” had stored everything in God’s little acre, but some things were missing and there were empty spaces where the food steamer and the salad spinner had been – and the pantry had seemed to loss some of its charm.
After some time, Ana walked in. And it suddenly felt much more like home. Could it be that it was not the contents of the house that held the meaning as much as the people? Where were Mom and Dad? They seemed to be in the print, the figurines, the dishes… the cabinet. But when Ana walked in – I knew they were still living in her and in me and in our relationship that had been forged through their lives.
My father’s house will be sold and the contents will be moved and the move will be very painful for me. I will be closing the door on apartment 1001 on day soon. I will be walking down the hall to Dad’s room, pausing to peek into Mom’s room to see if she is still asleep. It will be, one day, my turn.