Goodbye To A House I Never Lived In


For whatever reason, I have no photos of the house in the story.  This road, near where I live, will have to convey the feeling of leaving - or coming to a new place.

            Next week I shall leave a house I never lived in.  The feeling is quite bittersweet.  It is a home that my parents lived in for over three decades, yet I never spent a night there.  So how can an inanimate object cause one to have such strong feelings of sadness and loss?  Conversely, how can an object or place invoke feelings of belonging and connectedness?

        Two months ago I had to face the hard reality that my ninety-five year old mother could no longer live on her own.  She needed assistance in order to live the rest of her years in reasonable comfort.  The upshot was that she agreed, and that moving to an assisted care facility was her best option, for it would provide meals and caregivers to monitor her well being.  And the real bonus was that she would no longer feel the pressure of responsibility for maintaining a house and yard, nor have to deal with bills and finances.  This all took place rather quickly.

        The central Ohio house where my brother and I were raised now looks small and strange.  I rarely go by it, even though it is only a few short miles from where I live today.  The years, and changes to the place and the neighborhood, have removed almost all connectedness.  That feels strange, for I spent eighteen years there.  My memories of my brother and me, and of our family in that place remain strong and vivid - but a sense of belonging to it has long faded.

        After my brother and I became adults my parents moved out of state as the result of a job promotion.  We became a dissipated family, like so many are.  All of us resided in different states, and rarely got together as a combined unit after that.  Even our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were all over the map, so as time went on there was no one place that grounded us as a family - with one exception:  Marietta, Ohio.

        Although no family originated there, my parents began their married life in Marietta.  My father went to Marietta College on the G.I. Bill following World War II.  The town was a natural because of my grandfather's river history connections.  He was instrumental in establishing a river history museum in Marietta, even though he was from Sewickley, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.  For all my growing up years there were frequent trips to Marietta, and I secretly considered it to be my second home.  Upon retirement, following much searching around for a new place to alight, my parents ultimately decided Marietta made sense.  They came back to where they had started life as a couple. 

        Then, one of life's transitions forced its hand.  I was thrust into a position of caretaker and decision-maker for my mother.  Dad had passed away several years earlier.  Through hard work, and sound financial investments, they had lived comfortably.  The expense of assisted living for my mother would not be a problem, at least for the short term, and she moved to a facility in the town where I had grown up.  No longer a small farm village, it has grown sufficiently to be the location of a fine full-service retirement home.  Previously, a visit to my parents was a several hour drive, and required planning.  Now she is only minutes away and can be visited while on a grocery run.  That change still feels strange.

        For the past many weeks, my task has been to empty my parents house, and take care of the business of managing my mother's affairs.  It has taken over my life for the moment.  This has required daily or weekly trips to Marietta - a place where I never lived, yet feel such a strong attraction to.  Much of the contents of the house were destined for museums and libraries, and not the landfill.  Such is the burden of being raised by historians and collectors, and make sure the latter does not happen to the former.

        It is hard to see this stuff go.  Some of it has more immediate connection to me, for the items are relics of my youth.  Others are objects from earlier generations of both sides of the family.  Still, other stuff found its way to my parent's home because people knew it would be taken care of and appreciated for its historical context.  My job has been to assure that trust was not misplaced.

        Now the house is virtually empty.  My wife accompanied me on some of these trips of duty.  The first time she was there after my mother moved out, the emotion of returning this place without my mother there was overwhelming.  I had experienced the same flood of emotion a few days earlier.  The presence of my parents was still strong in this place, yet it felt wrong to have no occupant.  Earlier this week, after packing up the last of the stuff and were leaving, my wife was struck by the wistful feeling that this would be the last time she would see this place.  That is a deep sadness, and I feel it coming on me as well, for after another few trips to tidy things up, I too will be seeing it for the last time.  Goodbye to a house I never lived in.

        It is a nice house, but not outstanding, in a nice tree-filled neighborhood.  A late 1960's brick ranch, similar to most of the other houses.  That is not the source of the emotion.  I never lived there.  I never stayed there.  So those are not the origins of this connection.  Two people I love dearly lived there, and we enjoyed each other's company there.  That is the connection, and that connection is being severed, and that is the source of the hurt and the sadness.  Life is change.  With change comes emotion.  Even my connection to the town of Marietta is now going to change.  So it is not the places or the things which are important, or originate the emotional response. They are merely the catalyst for the emotional response.  It is the people.  



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