My thoughts are swirling after spending a day in my childhood home, which is now about to become someone else’s childhood home.
My sisters and I spent a day going through the last bits of the life my parents had made. Not technically “the” life, of course. That life died with my parents. But, the remnants of a life well lived. All that is left now are the material things none of us is claiming. The bedrooms are nearly devoid of furniture. The basement shelves, always stocked full of canned goods, fairly empty.
My parents were from what we in the U.S. call the Greatest Generation. The generation that survived the Depression, fought in World War II and through good old-fashioned hard work created one of the largest prolonged spikes in productivity this country has ever seen. Mom and Dad never had much materially but they had six children (a “small” family in Catholic terms back in the day), a tiny ranch home and a lot of forbearance.
I was strong as we sorted but it hurt. To see the “good” towels (the ones my mother was saving for God knows who) that were never used still in the linen closet. I wish she would have used them herself. She was worth the good towels.
My father’s drawer of treasures contained so few, really. Wallet photos of his grandkids. A Christmas card he bought for my mother and was never able to give to her because she was dying that Christmas. None of the sweet, mushy cards his six daughters had bought or made for him throughout the years—but instead, one from me and one from my sister—let’s just say both contained the word “fart.” An assortment of change holders and prayers. So little left from such a long life.
The basement bar at which many a friend and family member sat on Christmas Eves past, laughing and feasting on the sauerkraut balls that were a family tradition, from our German roots, every December 24. The awards my mother had won throughout her career. And enough paper plates and plastic cups for at least a dozen more family parties, even with the 20-some of us gathered. Mom always did overbuy, be it food or supplies.
I love knowing that my parents’ wine rack will see many more good times at my nephew’s apartment. That the bed I used to sleep in, my kids will sleep in again when they visit my sister’s guest room. That the deacon’s bench that graced our living room growing up will now grace another sister’s entryway.
I know a blog is for sharing but I can’t. It feels like a violation to detail the tremendous amount of living, laughter and tears that went into our years in that house. And not all of the stories are mine to tell.
But I can share what my parents were about. They were simple, honest, hardworking folk from Michigan. They believed in doing what was right, not for any personal gain, but simply because it was the right thing to do. They believed in giving to their church, their children and their friends. In picnics with ground baloney sandwiches with everyone piled into the family station wagon. In apple picking in the fall, sledding in the winter and summer vacations that were never fancy but always an adventure. They wanted better for their children but a sense of entitlement was out of the question. They believed in kids who entertained themselves, but only after finishing household chores. They believed in a sit-down dinner each and every night and an 8:30 p.m. bedtime for far too long (or so my eight-year-old self thought). They believed in “please” and “thank you” and children who said “Hello, Mrs. Corea—how are you today?” to our neighbor each and every time we saw her. They cooked homemade meals and delivered them to families who’d lost a loved one. They baked treats each holiday and had us run them to friends. We knew the rosary backwards and forwards—and I sat through more stations of the cross during my formative years than most people do in a lifetime.
I miss these things dearly. Some remain in traditions with my children. It’s getting harder and harder to keep these very simple values in a world on steroids. But I still believe in them. My kids are better for every early bedtime, station of the cross and chore they rack up.
I hope the little girl that moves into my old bedroom sees the marks left years ago from the teenaged collages I used to tape to the closet door, and wonders a little about the girl who went before her. I hope she plays hide-and-seek with the neighborhood kids and eats tomatoes out of the garden at the side of the house. Sees pheasants in the backyard this winter and groundhogs in the spring. Has a crush on the boy down the street.
I hope she tells Mrs. Corea “hello” each time she sees her. And I hope that Mrs. Corea gives her windmill cookies, just like she did to me so many times years ago. Because some things just shouldn’t change.