Thursday, July 28, 2005
The Empty House Revisited
This afternoon I met my mother at the farmhouse to go over what had been moved, what was left, what is still to go. With amazing efficiency, thanks to other members of her family, most everything was moved during one sultry weekend. We discussed the future of the place and the reality of what it requires--I said I didn't think we could keep it. I told her we wanted to keep as much of the land as possible surrounding the house but that we would sell the house and about 10 acres. She described some murmur in the family about keeping it in the family--certainly our original intention, but is this, too, a pipe dream?--so I thought I would follow up and send out an e-mail and/or letter to all aunts, uncle and cousins. At the very least, I owe them an explanation for why we are selling it and an opportunity to buy if anyone desires.
Seeing it again made it easier and visiting my mother's new house, a mile up the road, and seeing how she had settled everything into her new life also made things easier. She has blended her own things--some in storage for 30+ years--with some family pieces that she has brought from the farm. I was glad to see that she had chosen many objects that meant something to her. In the corner of her garage the four or five North American Van Line boxes from the June 1974 move are still unopened. Each one is now truly a time capsule of another life.
She showed me all through her house, very cozy and just the right size for two, and we both enthused about the amount of storage, the "just right size-ness" of everything--like the Three Bears cottage--and how a home is really made of the people in it. She said, "I'm realizing that, too." But the transition will not be easy--I think she is still somewhat wistful for what she has left behind. But she can walk on the property with the dogs always, even if the farmhouse sells. This is a huge change for her but in the long run, it will be easier--no huge maintenance bills to face, no acres of lawn to mow, no longer a slave to her gardens but with a few around to putter in.
As I pulled out of the driveway, I looked back in the rear view mirror and waved. My mother had a longing look about her, as if I were driving off to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, never to return. I promised to bring the boys the next time we meet--when we will likely have a book dealer come to go over the remaining lots. That will be in mid-August, soon towards the odd-uneven time of late summer. It has been a good summer and at the same time it has been very odd and uneven. The last year or so has been this way and I'm looking forward to a settling in time for all of us. I didn't cry today or the other day as I thought I might--I realized I have probably spent much of the past year crying about the farm. That sadness has been replaced by a steady clearheadedness--a compartmentalized sense of nostalgia and the reality that we gave it our best shot to bring everything at the farm--and everyone--together. I realize it is no longer my job nor should it ever have been.
So I'm starting to tuck the place away in acid-free memory. I realize that I have been doing that slowly, in manageable increments, since I formally moved out of the farm with my three year old daughter in late 1991. During the past four years I have mixed distance with wanting to buy the place and live there again one day. I realize, ultimately, that Thomas Wolfe was right--you can't go home again. It is never the same. I have seen these empty rooms, these corridors and walls of memory, but still I see them filled with objects and furnishings and people--even the many dogs we've had over the years at the farm. Forever attached to the farm will be "the bits and threads" of many lives, to paraphrase Katherine Mansfield--they whisper in the fields and from the open spaces in the barn and in the pinewoods. They cling behind doorways of the farmhouse. They will forever wave there from another time, silently, invisibly, but always there--the traces of four generations of one American family.