Saturday, August 17, 2013

Losing a Hometown

When I was in high school, the musical "Rent" exploded into American culture with extraordinary music and lyrics that captured our obsessive attention, lingering today in my ability to sing every one of those songs. The song that was attached to the musical's publicity is "Seasons of Love," which ponders the measure of a year in someone's life, beyond that of seconds and minutes.

"In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife." When I first heard it, on the brink of adulthood, I was sure I knew what that meant. It means something a little different to me now, as I measure my own years upon my children's, but this week in particular, it tears at my heart on yet another level.

This week, I am losing my hometown. We moved in 25 years ago and my parents have been in the same house for 19 of those years, a house they are vacating in a couple of days. Our family moved in the month before I started high school and for 19 years, despite my occupation of various other places, including two homes with my husband, it has always been "home."

It was the home where I set the kitchen on fire (accidentally) one cold January morning while my parents were in Las Vegas. It was the home where I parked my first car (1986 Ford Taurus station wagon), where our trees were attacked by hundreds of rolls of toilet paper, and where my friends always knew they were welcome. It was the home I always came back to, as a college student, as a broke twentysomething fired from a job, and as a wife and mother between houses.

It was the site of three high school graduation parties, three college graduation parties, a wedding rehearsal dinner, a post-wedding breakfast, and two baby showers, not to mention dozens of birthday parties, family reunions, pool parties, and gatherings convened as an excuse to get together and play cards and drink. All my kids and my nephews were babies in this house, although all but one will forget its rooms within the next year.

Logically, it seems silly to be so attached to a house, when it is the memories that are important. But loving a home is an illogical thing. I will never see my grandma or grandpa again, but just being in the rooms, knowing that they were here a year and a few months before they died, makes me want to roll up the carpet and remove the sheet rock and carry it with me. My oldest starts kindergarten this fall, but sometimes when I look at her in my parents' house, all I can see is a beautiful baby with no hair rolling around on the living room floor.

I cannot go back to see it one last time with no furniture, and there is not much reason for me to visit the town again, either. And I know that my heart is not the only one that is breaking a little bit. For my parents, on the verge of their sixtieth decades, pulling up roots and walking away from the home where they raised three children and watched the growth of their family as we added two sons-in-law and six grandchildren is painful.

But here is what is wonderful about it. The easiest course for them, with such a large family and such a connection to the house, would have been to stay and let further generations commit its walls to memory. But for 20 years, they have wanted a lake home. This summer, they decided it was now or never, and they pulled the trigger. It was the most selfish thing they have ever done, and I say that with the most positive meaning possible.

They will not be the couple whose dream is neatly tucked away in a basement closet, waiting for just the right "someday." Of all the lessons we have learned in our house, this might be one of the most important: the time will come when your dreams are within your reach and you have to snatch them up before the door closes again. We know that this is true, we know that some wishes should not remain so, but how often do we actually act? These are people acting, out of their comfort zone and for once, not solely in the best interest of their kids. The lake that's been shimmering like a mirage outside their back door is a real thing.

We will see more daylights and midnights, drink more coffee and feel more laughter and strife, just as we did in the old house. This will be the house of my children's memories, just as the old one is the house of mine. And they will look out the windows of the only home they have ever known as Grandma and Grandpa's to see a landscape that is reflective of their grandparents' character.

To the lake we go.

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