We sat in the driveway of my mom’s home, looking at its gray and wheat-colored stone facade. As she sat next to me in the car, I sensed that she was absorbing all she could. While she was gazing silently, I was remembering what every room looked like behind each of the windows. The “For Sale” sign positioned at the edge of the yard, just outside of my view, was nagging at me.
After awhile, I took her hand and looking her in the eye, tearfully said, “You did a good work in there. It was hard, I know, but you loved us well.”
My mom squeezed my hand and said, “I did, didn’t I…?”
That was the last time we saw the house before the buyers signed the papers; that was the goodbye I didn’t know was a goodbye to the place my mom had made her home for fifty-two years, my whole life. In a week, COVID exploded and, because of health reasons for us both, quarantine was mandated. The next month, the keys to 810 (our nickname for the house) would be handed over to strangers.
How do I say goodbye to my childhood home without the opportunity of walking through each room…
How do I say goodbye to my childhood home without the opportunity of walking through each room, of taking that last look out the front window, of running my fingers down the smooth wooden bannister, or of standing in my old bedroom, remembering where the Duran Duran poster hung?
These days, I have been wandering around the house in my mind, trying to attend carefully to all the details, trying to settle the memories of this home—what has been part of the filling of my years—into a place in my soul, and trying to honor the woman who put her heart and hands to making one place very good for her family.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.
~ Psalm 16:6
The street, flat and long enough for bikes with training wheels, red wagons, roller skates, and skateboards
The split rail fence, made by Dad’s hands, marking the east, west, and south perimeter of a less than ½ acre plot…
Old trees standing in each corner of the back yard, for the tree house, the gathering of holly greens, and even the rescuing of a stray, gray cat
Back yard, green expanse where dogs could run around and children could play Star Wars
Gray and wheat-colored stone, locally quarried, paired with Williamsburg blue front door and wooden shutters…
Honey, smooth wooden floors reflecting the sunlight in the living room
…by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches
The living room carpet, positioned in just the right place to spread the new Legos out each Christmas afternoon
The warm brown sheen of the simple dining room table, its leaves facing down and waiting to be put up for a holiday meal
The corner antique hutch displaying the dark green lemonade set with pitcher and glasses, treasures of never-known grandparents
Speakers in the living room and the family room, connected to one stereo system, to play the Christmas music very loud
The family room’s green plaid couch, long enough for three young granddaughters to crowd around their Mum-Mum
A bedroom-turned-office, with a typewriter and keyboards, for little girls to clump around in Mum-Mum’s shoes, playing secretary
The double-oven stove cooking two pies Thanksgiving morning and several dishes and a turkey later in the day
The wise woman builds her house
~ Proverbs 14:1
My mom, from the age of twenty-one, learning the ways of commitment to one man and one place
Working hard at home for a family of four, and years of conscientious attention working outside the home
Inviting people in—the screened-in porch available for long chats and tall drinks
Careful planning for each holiday, all-the-family-comes-home meal and ready for loved ones to walk through the door
Preparing for the arrival of family to stay in my brother’s old room, “the dormitory,” with crisp sheets and clean towels
Arms to snuggle grand babies; a willingness to prepare crispy scrapple when grandchildren sleep over; and a care for teenage joys and sorrows
A calendar of home upkeep and repairs, for the furnace to be serviced and the roof to be inspected
A ready ear, supportive words, and serving hands—a stubborn love for each of us
Even though my mom’s maple-colored dry sink now stands in my living room, piles of family photos have been divided up, and boxes of cherished miscellaneous items have been placed on shelves in my basement, it does not feel possible that we won’t return to 810 for Thanksgiving—to watch the Macy’s Day Parade in the morning, to eat Fritos and laugh with my brother and his family in the afternoon, and then gather around the dining room table for our traditional meal.
My goodbye to 810 is incomplete. I spend time during this pandemic free-writing details of each room and asking questions of my life in this place…hoping that writing will give me some answers. Maybe I will re-watch the 2017 movie A Ghost Story—I can relate to the ghost, wandering unseen in a white sheet through his house, looking at the new lives in his home; except in my daydreams, I am a ghost observing all the younger selves of me and my family. I don’t know where all this mind-meandering will lead.
But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house.
~ Psalm 5:7a
But, by God’s kindness, as I look back, I do see abundance—years of abundance spilling in and out of a Williamsburg blue front door—that bound a family together.
The featured image of her family home is courtesy of Leslie Bustard and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Leslie Anne Bustard takes great joy in loving people and places, whether at church, around her kitchen table, in a classroom, or traveling around. She delights in words and the way poets and storytellers put them together, and marvels at the beauty found in the details of ordinary life. Reading, writing, teaching literature, baking, producing high school theater, and museum-ing are some of Leslie’s favorite things. Leslie is the host of The Square Halo, a podcast for Square Halo Books (https://www.squarehalobooks.com/podcasts) and is developing a book titled Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to the Best Children’s Books. She and her husband Ned have been married for 30 years and live in a century-old row house in Lancaster City, where they raised their three daughters.