Sunday, November 20, 2011

Home Sweet Home



My parents just moved from their Florida townhouse into a condo. They went from five rooms and a veranda to two rooms and a flat screen. In the process they had to jettison a truckload of furniture, books, and collected memorabilia -- including a several boxes that I had stashed in their attic. I got a couple of phone calls during the process asking if I really needed to save every scrap of paper I had ever scribbled on. (Answer: Yes.) But in general, they are pretty good about getting rid of excess baggage. Much better than I am.
Of course this isn't the first time they've been through this process. Since they got married, they've moved six times. I wasn't around for their first move -- from an apartment in Bridgeport to their first house in Derby, Connecticut. But I do have some memories of that little red clapboard cottage.
One of my earliest memories is of my Mom and me lying on a blanket in the side yard. I felt something moving under me, and when my Mom picked up the blanket we saw a couple of snakes wriggling around underneath. Fortunately, a garbage man soon arrived to pick up the snakes and dispose of them. To me, the garbage man was like a superhero, who appeared out of nowhere with his big green barrel, vanquished the evildoers and then rode away on his giant noisy truck.
Another memory I have from that house is of walking through a massive snow-canyon whose frozen white walls loomed way above my head -- but it was really only a shoveled path from the front door to the driveway.
We moved from Derby to Warren, Ohio when I was about three or four. I don't remember anything about the move itself, but I do remember our house in Warren. It was a split-level with a half basement and a swing-set in the back yard. Since it had no fireplace, my Dad built a fake one -- complete with electric "burning" logs. My parents wanted to make sure that Santa had proper access to deliver our Christmas presents. I never knew it was fake until years later.
We weren't in that house very long. One of my strongest memories from there is falling down the basement stairs. It wasn't a full flight of stairs and I probably only fell down the last step, but it seemed like a huge deal at the time.
Our next move was to a two-story colonial in Louisville, Kentucky. That was the house I grew up in. It had a full basement, an attic, a backyard and a real fireplace. We had a piano in the den, a stereo in the living room and a two-car garage. It was a castle.
There are almost too many memories of that house to even begin to recall any. Everything happened there. It was like part of the family. There was even a room called the "family room."
Every square inch of that house holds a special memory: Finding my Dad's old childhood board games up in the attic. Discovering the secretly hidden Christmas presents in my parents' closet. The jellybean Easter egg hunts in the living room. Mom warming our coats in front of the stove on cold winter mornings. Watching my Dad work at his big gray workbench in the basement. Seeing fireworks from the roof of the garage. Rolling down the hill in the front yard. Sitting in front of the fire drinking hot cocoa after making a snow fort in the backyard. Washing the car in the driveway before my first date...
While I was in college, my Dad got a promotion and my parents sold the house and moved to Guilford, Connecticut. I really had no chance to say goodbye to that house in Louisville. The whole move happened when I was away at school. I did get a chance, though, to hang out with my Dad while he was house-shopping in Guilford.
We took a look at a kind of plain-looking place down a long driveway at the end of Riverview Drive. Not much to look at from the street. But around the back was a whole different world. The house sat on the edge of a tidal river in the middle of a salt marsh. Across the river was a bird sanctuary. It was beautiful. Trees, grass, birds, fish, tides, clouds, sun and snow, water and ice. All constantly changing -- always new yet always familiar.
After college I lived at the house on Riverview Drive on and off for the next few years. Whenever I needed a place to regroup after another unsuccessful foray into the real world, there was always my corner room overlooking the marsh. It was a good place to reconnect with myself. I could take the canoe out onto the river and disappear into nature for hours on end. Or just sit on the dock while the river rose, listening to the birds sing and the wind rustle through trees. When I finally moved out for good and went to New York, it was nice to know that I still had my own private nature sanctuary just a train ride away.
We packed a lot of memories into that house, too. My niece and nephews made some of their earliest appearances there. We had Christmases and Thanksgivings and even a wedding reception. In time, it came to feel just like home. My parents had managed to move most of our stuff up from Louisville. I had a stash of old memories boxed up in the basement. Things I wasn't ready to let go of. But like the salt marsh, life just keeps on changing.
Not long after his promotion, my Dad went through a major shake-up at work. He landed on his feet, but the era of corporate downsizing was just beginning and he decided to get out while the gettin' was good. Around the same time, my Mom inherited her aunt's condo in Florida. My folks spent a winter down there and realized they never had to suffer through another freezing Connecticut winter again. So they moved.
This time I was given a mandate to consolidate and/or discard all of the crap I had been storing in their basement, as there would be limited space for it in the new house. They had sold the condo and bought a townhouse in Osprey, Florida. No basement, but there was an attic above the garage. Two bedrooms, plus a pull-out couch in the den. And just a short walk to a pretty nice swimming pool. A nice place to visit, but I wasn't gonna live there.
The memories we created in Osprey were mostly associated with special occasions -- my parents' major birthdays, Christmas trips to Disney World, hanging out with Mom after her heart surgery. I once spent a couple of relaxing weeks there in the springtime and managed to crank out a screenplay in the process.
On my last visit to Osprey, a couple of years ago, my parents were already talking about moving. Once again I was directed to go through my stash of boxes and discard anything unnecessary. This time I actually managed to pare things down to what I thought was a few manageable boxes. But that didn't stop them from calling me up while they were packing to give me a heads-up that they were "consolidating" some more of my things.
This time there will be no special stash of my treasured archives at my parent's place. Everything they didn't want was loaded onto a truck and shipped up to Connecticut for my sister to deal with. Hopefully it will be safe there for another few years.
I just hope my sister doesn't decide to move.

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