There’s something about a house where no one has lived for a long time, especially once its order has been irrevocably disturbed, rifled and ransacked by countless hands.
The upstairs is mostly barren. All three bedrooms, empty. Likewise in the livingroom.
The dining room would be empty except for a stack of pillows and rolls of foam that the auctioneer’s junkmen were supposed to take but didn’t.
The kitchen counters are cluttered with items for which the status remains undecided: keep, pitch or leave for the new owners? A similar scene, only on a larger scale, is developing on the sunporch.
The basement looks like a tornado hit it. The junkmen took less than half of what they were supposed to and my godmother sits among the wreckage, trying to decide what is a keepsake and what she will need to turn loose for her own sake. It’s excruciating to watch so I try to occupy myself by carting things upstairs that I know will be leaving. I briefly wonder how there can still be so much stuff left to contend with when the culling process has been going on so earnestly for weeks.
The house itself means nothing to me. I do not have the ties to it that I did to its predecessor. It was not the backdrop for many happy childhood memories. And yet, there is the hesitance to wrap things up because it’s so much more than selling a house. It is the final page of the last chapter of two lives.
My great-aunt died more than a decade ago and my great-uncle nearly a year ago. And yet their lives were, to some degree, frozen in time, carefully encapsulated between walls and tucked beneath a roof. Only occasionally did anyone break the sanctity of their suspended earthly domain. In recent months though, as more and more strangers trod through, invading the sacred ground, the reality and the finality of it all came flooding through: they are both gone. It’s a fact that cannot be ignored.
As the evening wears on, the scene improves only marginally, but the demeanor has changed. The mood is a bit lighter. We laugh. We joke. We exchange stories. We share fond memories unearthed by the newest find. (One of those things is a kindergarten photo of me!)
Then, there is the arduous task of packing up. Fitting all of this stuff into a single pick-up –with the added challenge of a closing lid – puts my logistical skills to the test. “Ye of little faith,” I quip to my baby cousin though I have my own doubts.
A few condensed boxes and last-minute maneuvers and somehow it all fits – except the top shelf to a rolling garment bag. (This ends up inside Pearl’s trunk for future delivery.) We do a final walk-through. And then a final final walk-through. And then one more, just to be certain.
Doors shut. Locks lock. Lights go dark. A chapter closes.
As I drive away, it occurs to me that it doesn’t really end here. Not really. Not as long as we remember.
The life of the dead is retained in the memory of the living. – Cicero