A house is a house. A shell. Wood. Stone. Metal. Hay. Sticks. Whatever. A house is just…a house.
Except sometimes it’s not.
Sometimes it’s so much more.
Smells and sounds and creaks and crannies and scratches and dents and scuff marks and worn places on the floors. Doors that won’t quite close and windows that will never open again because they’ve been painted so many times you wonder if the layers of color are thicker than the wood itself.
Sometimes a house is childhood memories and teenage memories and grown-up memories all bundled up and held close, so that when you open the door and walk into a room you can smell your grandmother’s lotion…even though she’s been dead for 10 years. Or walk down the basement stairs and see your grandfather at his workbench…even though he’s been gone for four.
Sometimes you can walk around the corner outside the house and remember being little and trying to stand and balance on the fire hydrant at the corner because your big brother could…so you have to try. Or walk through the garden gate and hear the click of the latch and think of a winding path and water fountain and Shirley Temples and tomato plants…knowing it hasn’t been like that in 30 years.
Sometimes a house is home base…a link to the town that has been and will be a part of you all your life. Where walks begin that take you through rows of houses down narrow streets you’ve walked with your dad over and over again. Over brick side walks that make you stumble if you aren’t careful. Past the flower shop you’ve dreamed of owning. Through St. John’s College. Down the street to the post office or bank where they knew your grandfather by name. Down Main Street to Ego Alley and the Market House and the City Dock where you watched boats and concerts and people. Along the wall and through the gates of the Naval Academy where you played frisbee or explored or sat at the sea wall and learned the difference between a yawl and a sloop and a schooner. Over “Sai’s Bridge” to the house where Tera was born. Or to see the house you remember living in with the huge lilac bush out front and marigolds that Mom let you make chains with. Or down the street where you learned to ride a bike.
Sometimes a house has staircases that you remember walking up and down a million times and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t do it silently. And you think of when your grandmother chased your brother up the stairs to prove she could still catch him…long, long before the back surgeries and crippling began. Sometimes those staircases lead to second floors with balconies that let you look over the wall and see the midshipmen parading by. Sometimes they lead to the third floor with its slanted ceilings and mysterious opening to the house next door.
Sometimes houses stay in the family. And you grow up loving them because they always were…no matter how many other changes happened in your life. And you know that they are loved…more than they should be…and you grow up loving them because they hold the people and things and times and laughter and tears that you love. And sometimes they become a part of someone…so that saying goodbye and letting go is like saying goodbye and letting go of those people who you loved and times that were great all over again. And doing that means missing them all over again, only more tangibly because you know you will never have this house to come back to again. And never smell that wonderful 257 or Papa’s Basement smell again. And maybe you fear that letting go of this means losing your connection to part of your life that you just can’t give up.
But sometimes the opportunity to say goodbye to such a house gives you a chance to realize how thankful you are that it is, has been and always will be part of your life. So instead of being tearful or sad, you can be overwhelmingly grateful for memories of sailboats and the Chesapeake Bay and Mimi’s charm and Papa’s ability to fix everything and getting your arm stuck in the bannister and bringing a live bird in to live in Mimi’s birdcage that hung over the bed on the second floor and the board where Papa measured you as you grew taller and lion faces on dining room chairs and tiptoeing to make yourself look like you had four eyes in the gold framed beveled mirror and standing on the balcony and exploring the town and taking care of Mimi when she had her back surgery and being here when Papa died.
I will always treasure these few days that Tera and I could come here now…bidding farewell to this house.
Because even though a house is just a house…sometimes it’s not.
Sometimes it’s so much more.