Wednesday, October 15, 2008

If Her Walls Could Talk

My friend, E, is moving out of her house to another not too far away. She's been packing furiously since the agreements of sale for their current and their new homes were signed a few short weeks ago. Everybody wanted to hurry up and settle, leaving E little time to do anything but stuff boxes.

How do you pack up, what, fourteen years of your life? They've been there at least that long, if not longer. It's not something I could do. The Oracle and I have lived here over sixteen years, and as much as our fifty-plus-year-old house misbehaves, I can't imagine ever packing up and leaving, and only partly because there's too much stuff to go through. My familiar, colored-on walls are comforting in their familiarity. I know where all of our floorboards creak, which pipes clatter in the basement, and the layout of our electrical breakers. I know which neighbor's dog is barking and whether that bark is nonsense or for cause.

I also generally don't like change. I'm happy to have found a spot in which to stay put. When The Oracle and I first married, he often talked of places he'd like to live (Maryland, California, Vermont), but inside I always stiffened at the thought. I suppose if circumstances were such that moving was the only option (work, for instance), I'd have to go. Part of me always felt a bit sad for kids whose families moved all the time. Never mind that they grew up experiencing this country from A to Z with crops of friends in all four corners. (Oh, no! Nnnn has to move! It seemed like a fate worse than death.)

Precious Daughter is much like me. She likes her house. It is her favorite place to be, and I suspect the only way she'd willingly move anywhere else (like her seven-year-old butt has a choice) is if the new place had a pool.

Anyway, back to E.

E and her husband, R, first lived in a mobile home park, working hard and saving their pennies to buy their dream home, which they discovered to be brand-new construction in a wide-open and growing area. I was so excited for them when they moved in, especially after they spent a number of weeks in limbo after settlement on the mobile home sale, first living with R's parents until they sold their home and retired to Florida. E & R and their overstressed cats (one cat or two, then? Maybe just one?) would have likely been homeless, but a friend let them live in their basement until settlement day.

Meia was R's adopted child, being E's kitty while she still lived with her parents. This was Meia's third move in something like a month and a half, and the poor old lady was probably ready to crack. Whether they had their second kitty at this time I don't recall.

My memory sucks, but I do remember a good portion of their move-in day. I was thrilled for them, and I was awestruck (and a little envious I admit) by the loveliness of their shiny-new home. They packed a number of their belongings in the voluminous spaces of our traitorous '76 Cadi The rest of their stuff, packed into in her mom's basement and garage, was hauled into her brother's large truck, I believe, and driven to their new digs.

I am probably the world's laziest person, but when it comes to moving other people's stuff, I'll happily work my butt off. Why is that? Is it because their stuff is more interesting, or is it the packratter's dream to take a clean, empty place and fill it up? Lord knows my house is nearly packed to the rafters, so much so that I can't move without stepping over or around things.

I know there were other helpers there, including E's mom and brother, their friends TK (those shorts!!) and EC. I think there were a few other faces that are now blurry. E's mom almost immediately made herself at home in the kitchen, keeping our bodies hydrated and our bellies full. I remember tacos, really yummy tacos.

Once they were settled, of course, the history of the house began.

Lightning struck, literally, not very long after they moved in, I think less than a year. E had the (good/mis-) fortune of being the first on scene, beating the local police chief by a couple minutes and the fire department by a few more. An experienced firefighter, she knew she had a little time to work, and she set to work trying to find her cats. When the police chief arrived, he wasn't going to let E go back in. When he saw her determination, he'd gone in with her just so she wouldn't be in there by herself. He was the one that found the other cat. He then gave her two minutes to go back in and grab her photographs.

The fire took out much of her attic and the ceilings of at least two bedrooms. I remember the heavy smoky smell and the water, so much water, still dribbling from the gaping hole in the ceiling onto either a piece of siding or metal baseboard positioned to track it out a broken window.

I remember them holing up in a motel and needing to forage K-Mart for toothbrushes and underwear and changes of clothes. I remember the notebook that was given to E with the order to write everything in it and to never be without it. That book never left E's side until they were able to move back in and beyond. It was her record of items damaged and lost and endless phone conversations with insurance companies, the municpality, and the restoration company. (E, did you save that, or was the memory too icky?)

Restoration took forever and ever and ev-er, the final big delay having something to do with finding the right-sized roof trusses. It took a lot longer to restore their trust in the house that sort of betrayed them.

In the years following, they filled their house with babies that walked on two legs and four. In fact, it was on her back patio where she entrusted me with holding her son, probably only a couple weeks old at most. Don't ask me how I avoided handling her first two except for a panicky three (eternal) minutes with Baby #1 where I was assigned the job of Do Not Let the Baby Roll Off the Changing Table while she ran upstairs, and a later episode with a 9-month-old #2 where I was tasked with keeping her entertained as E took Toddler #1 to the public restroom. Nervous breakdown, anyone?

At any rate, I successfully dodged handling her first two newborns for four years, and I probably would have dodged #3 too, but a practical need to learn loomed on the horizon. I'd never held an infant in my life and my first was due in less that three months. Tell me, what kind of trust does your friend possess to let a total baby illiterate fumble around with her newborn over a concrete patio?

My kids' favorite place was her dining room, which had been joyfully converted to an awesome playroom with different bold colors on each wall (ceiling fan blades to match), decals/posters from a teacher's supply store, and shelves and bins for all manner of toys (and that room was stuffed). When I brought my kids to E's, they beelined for that room and wouldn't venture out until they were dragged kicking and screaming (unless a birthday cake were at stake).

Really, there's so much ground to cover, and I could take all day.

When they put the house on the market, they turned that room back into a dining room, and I was sad to see it go, even though the finished product was gorgeous and looked like it belonged on a magazine cover.

Three kids, four dogs, three (four?) cats, and one guinea pig later, they're starting a new adventure in a new house. Is it hard to leave all of that time behind, or doesn't it matter much since the memory makers are going with you? I know the people are what make the home, and I've often told my kids that as long as they and their daddy are with me, I have everything I need.

I guess I just answered my own question.


Mnementh/Aimee said...

I enjoyed reading this. I'm a Navy Brat who became a Marine Wife, and while the Wife part didn't require much moving, I moved every 4 years as a child until we settled in Langhorne in time for Middle School. Then I went back on the road after college before settling down here in Florida. I enjoyed moving if only because it's the easiest way to get me to weed out my closet (and the one in the spare room, the shed, under the beds, and behind the couch).

AirmanMom said...

Hubby and I cleaned off the loft today, we both have commented there is no way we are ever going to attempt to "down-scale". We plan meet our expiration date and let the offspring take what they want and "estate sale" the rest :)

~AirmanMom returning to her blog...

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

You loving that mailbox is why I love you!!

Hallie :)

--V said...

Speaking as someone who just moved, I don't see myself doing it again any time soon. Part of the reason I stayed in that little hole-in-the-wall apartment as long as I did had to do with my unwillingness to pack. Even after it was confirmed that we were headed for closing on this place I had to force myself to put things in boxes.

I wonder what these walls will have to say in 20 years.

Anonymous said...

We decided to part with the book while packing to move. It was time to let it go and move on. It took us a long time to get over the fire, I'm not sure I really ever did and getting rid of that book felt right.

As more of our stuff comes out this becomes our home. We are still getting used to this house and I still can't find anything in the kitchen. I missed having my Mom around for moving day (well everyday for that matter).

This house is so very different from the one we left and that's taking some getting used to. DD2 was crying last night because she missed her old room. I guess I should get to unpacking her room to help her feel more at home.

For me having R, the kids and pets with me (and my books, if I'm honest) make me feel comfortable.

Memories are made every day of your life, like you said there will be more to come no matter where we are. But boy will I miss that patio....E