my grandparents' house was torn down today.
it's a long, sad, infuriating story, but all that remains now are the stories and memories.
my dad and his siblings were raised there. nearly every christmas of my childhood and young adulthood was spent there. i swam in the lake all summer long. i got ready for formal dances in high school and my sister's wedding in my aunt's pink bathroom, with butterflies on the wallpaper and movie star lights around the mirrors. it always smelled slightly of talcum powder. my high school graduation party was held in the backyard. i caught the first - unbeknownst to us at the time - glimpse of my future husband across the lake in 8th grade, when my best friend and i were on a paddle boat, and he and his friend were shooting at frogs with bb guns. we would meet again, for real, five years later, just yards away, on the college campus.
in that place in the brain that holds sensory things, i can still hear the squeak of the basement door to the garage, smell the fragrance of gasoline mingled with sawdust from grandpa's wood shop. i can hear the creak of the stairs, the heavy whoosh of the sliding doors to the deck, the white noise splash of the fountains on the lake, and the geese honking happily as they pooped all over the yard. i can remember the yellow and red tulips in the planter lining the driveway ... the daffodils and japanese maple in the garden behind the house, all of grandma's bird feeders by the front window. there was the low westminster quarters played on the bells of the college administration building across the street ... and on the grandfather clock in the great room. the ornate, heavy front door. the imposing stone fireplace and hearth, where we all sat to crack thousands of nuts over lifetimes of christmases. grandpa's massive congressional desk in his wood-paneled office. the game table and orange roller chairs where the adults sat to play hour upon hour of boggle, and the kids sat to do innumerable crafts. the red, white, and blue stripes on the ceiling of "the pit," and the crazy 60s carpet in the basement, covered with gameboards. i wish i had a picture of that carpet. i forgot to ask my mom for one when she went to visit the house one last time. though, by this point, the house was in disrepair, almost to the point of ruin, so who knows what even still existed of that carpet.
when henry was small, and harper smaller, my parents briefly lived in my grandparents' house. my grandparents had moved to assisted living, but the family wanted to keep the house alive for gatherings and sentiment. my kids got to have two christmases there - christmases they will never remember, but i'm grateful happened. they got to slide their stocking onto the pole grandpa always used, and sit on the couch to hear "'twas the night before christmas" read by their grandpa, just like mine had done with me and all my cousins. they got to bake cookies in the kitchen with grandma ... right in front of the drawer where my and my cousins' grandma kept tins of oreos and fig newtons and chips ahoy that we would all sneak. (i'm assuming we all snuck cookies ... i know i did.)
the last time we were all there together was when grandma passed, 12 years ago ... before half the cousins married and had their own families; we all still felt like "the kids" at that point. the paddle boat was taken out ... and promptly half sunk, halfway across the lake. the fishing poles came out and everyone took a turn wetting a line. it was just like it always had been.
but it was the last time. my parents moved shortly after - again, part of the long, sad, infuriating story - and that was it. for 12 years, the house sat ... empty, alone, neglected by those to whom it was entrusted.
knowing it was being torn down today was heartbreaking, but watching it fall apart was worse. all the years, all the memories ... disrespected. ignored.
years change people and traditions. the generations shift ... the oldest layer of relatives ages, and the newest grow up and have their own schedules. there are more bodies and moving parts, so gatherings are no longer as feasible or easy. a house is just the container that holds the moments; our hearts and minds hold the memories. but it's also hard to grow up and move on. sometimes you just want to sit at grandma and grandpa's house, hear them fussing over everyone, feel the security of your own parents nearby, hear the laughter and teasing, and know where the center is.