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VACANCIES

Reminiscing about the old neighborhood with my best friend from childhood inspired me to revisit a piece from the past. Enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.

VACANCIES

Home is where the heart is, a retreat where a person finds comfort and will gladly return. Vacating that special place can instill mixed emotions.

My first encounter with that conundrum occurred when I married and truly left home for the first time. After twenty-three years under Mom and Dad’s roof, I prepared to declare my independence. Unlike relocating part of my belongings for nine months at college, then bringing them back again, this time all that represented my past and present came with me. I’d be sacrificing distinct comforts, such as Mom’s hearty cooking, my well-conformed mattress, our family’s daily routines––the familiar sights, sounds, and smells I grew up with––items I’d have to re-establish with my bride. But departing also presented an opportunity to create a new, more personal refuge. Still, mixed emotions prevailed.

Fortunately, my restoration process was brief. My wife’s country recipes satisfied my culinary desires. Our bed quickly settled into a cozy contour. We established and shared new habits, sights, sounds, and smells in our 12X60 foot mobile domicile. Together we plunged in to the unfamiliar, exciting, and rewarding adventure of responsible adulthood and faced the unpredictable world on our own. I’d found home and my comfort zone once more.

For six years, the “trailer” represented our base to confront life’s challenges. We enjoyed our first Christmas and observed our first anniversary there. It became the birthplace of our family after our two sons arrived. Each boy celebrated their first birthday while housed within that small, but wonderful space. We bought the rig rather than rent so that we’d have equity when we decided to build or purchase a house without wheels. For two “kids” making major financial decisions by themselves, it was a pretty smart idea. But vacating my first home wasn’t the same as leaving the residence of my youth.

Mom, Dad, and the old homestead were exactly where I’d left them. I could visit all three any time I wished. Forever departing the enclosure my wife and I had established as our home, however, was completely different. I didn’t appreciate the emptiness a person could feel until I saw our love nest towed down the highway into the horizon––the first sunset in our family history.

But sweetness did not abstain from this sour episode. Because our mobile unit came furnished, the rooms were not expressionless when we closed the front door and wished it farewell. Besides, compared to the 720 sq. ft., aluminum-sided rectangle we shared with two preschool boys, the two-story, frame house we planned to replace it with would seem like a mansion. Recovering from the hollowness suffered by the trailer’s exit was easier than anticipated.

While constructing our house in 1978, my young family relocated twice. Although we moved bedding, clothing, and a couple of chairs, in both instances it was emotionally similar to leaving a motel. Not at all what I’d experience when I helped my father move in 1988.

The sturdy middle-class residence on Rambler Dr. was the only house Mom and Dad ever owned. It was their home. They spent forty-eight of their fifty years as husband and wife there before Mom expelled her last breath inside its protective confines. Although my brothers and I had eagerly departed the homestead to pursue our own lives, the return to this family monument was not without sorrow.

Stripped to bare walls and carpet, the building’s interior took on an unexpected appearance. Void of the individuality provided by its furnishings and familiar sounds, only the memories remained, held secure by walls that refused to relinquish them. I had never seen the house this way. Family pictures no longer occupied their dedicated spaces. The refrigerator’s low hum and the flow of air past the furnace grates were hushed. The sparse rooms were exposed and silent as a tomb.

The naked house and I raced through recollections of Christmas gatherings with aunts, uncles and cousins; our first puppy, Frisky, and the many tricks he learned, and the night we had to put him down; the array of childhood illnesses cured by a shot of penicillin and Mom’s loving hand; fluctuating report cards that led to high school graduation; tearful discussions about love and loss––imprints permanently etched in my mind. Some recollections hid under layers of paint–– impressions on the kitchen door frame that monitored my siblings’ and my annual growth. Closing the door on that 1930s brick home for the final time evoked a feeling as if I’d lost a dear friend that I’d never see again––a sensation I would repeat.

In 1996 my wife and I left behind the habitat we built, modified, and made uniquely ours. The relocating process began with a festival of relatives and friends, who donated their time and strong backs to place our valued possessions inside a Ryder truck. Once again, I discovered naked partitions and floors. Voices, subdued by furnishings through seventeen calendar changes echoed from blank sheetrock and wood paneled walls. We’d raised our two boys in that house––from grade school, through their torturous teens, and into their twenties. Our country castle had endured prom and homecoming parties. We’d held family reunions on our spacious lawn as well as many Fourth of July celebrations. My wife and I nearly separated, shared tearful discussions, and restored our marriage while shielded under its protective roof. Like the bungalow on Rambler Dr., our home had captured many memories and refused to let go. Shutting the wooden portal and relinquishing the keys to new owners revitalized the lost friend sensation. But like good pioneers, we followed our dreams and moved west to Colorado.

After residing in the mountains for sixteen years, the birth of our first two grandchildren prompted my wife and me to return to Missouri. Once more, we sold our house and prepared to move. Once more, I faced barren walls, listened to my voice ricochet from floor to ceiling, and reviewed the memories captured within. Closing the door to another chapter of my life, I recalled the many vacancies I’d encountered and realized that it wasn’t the structures I’d occupied that made them significant, or truly established them as homes. Anyone could have purchased identical plans and duplicated the two-story farmhouse my wife and I constructed. The neighborhood where I grew up was cloned with tightly spaced, brick and mortar testimonials to that very issue. Our Colorado house wasn’t that unique either.

Reflecting upon departed homes and loved ones, I suddenly understood. It wasn’t eye-catching interiors or exteriors that turned a house into a home. It was the close-knit residents who lived inside that provided each structure’s pulsing heart. No matter how many empty sensations materialize from homes left behind, family loss is the only vacancy that truly alters a person’s life.

 

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