Goodbye, House on the Hill

Today I said a rough goodbye.  I said goodbye to a home I have loved and never intended to leave, as well as a life that I loved, and never intended to leave.

I moved out of the house a few months ago, and I’m happy where I am.  But until today, I hadn’t yet said goodbye.

I sat on the floor of the living room and wrote a letter to the family who will move in tomorrow, the new owners.  I had prayed that a young family would buy the house, and fill it again with love and laughter.  I don’t know much about them, except that they seem to be young, and they love the house.

When we bought the house, our kids were 5, 7, 9 and 10. We’d just moved to Iowa.  We were all adjusting to so many new things.  New church, new job, new schools, new friends, new weather (“seasons,” what??), a new, slower culture and lifestyle.

Hard things happened there, but mostly it was a place of joy and fun and love and laughter.

As I sat in the living room today, listening to the intense quiet that I’ve always loved there, I looked at the front window, and remembered dozens of years of Christmas trees. They needed to go exactly in the center of that window… except that one year when we accidentally chose “Jabba the Tree,” and nearly had to move out of the house to make room for him.  

I remembered hilarious gatherings of teenagers in that living room, playing games like “Catch Phrase” that always turned raucous.  I remembered two marriage proposals (both accepted!) that happened in that living room.  I remembered dozens and dozens of couples standing in front of the big painting, having pictures taken before prom, Homecoming, and other events.  I remembered Halloween costumes, Easter baskets, important conversations, movie nights.  I remembered.

I looked into the dining room, and remembered so many dinners.  Regular dinners, with everyone in their “usual places,” and holiday dinners, where we were joined by others.  I heard whispers of people like my Grandma near the end of her life, confused by the reflection of the Christmas tree lights in the back window.  “Now whose lights are THOSE?”  I heard my mother, sitting at the table playing dominos with the kids.  I saw my dad, snickering and painting a few of his fingernails with my daughters’ polish, in order to horrify and amuse them.

I saw the table, surrounded twice with a young bride and her friends, preparing invitations, favors, even food for their weddings.  I saw countless card games, board games, sewing projects, homework papers, team rosters, spread across that table. 

I walked through the bedrooms, and remembered prayers, tucking in, a set of bunk beds in each room.  I heard sounds of one boy doing a particular high pitched, unstoppable giggle as he read Dilbert books when he was supposed to be sleeping, and the other boy, in the bunk below, calling out his name in a tired, slightly frustrated but slightly amused voice.  I heard peals of laughter from the two girls in the other room.  I heard one tell the other that she couldn’t find something, and the older sister finding it for her.  Always.  I remembered the nights of sleeping with the windows open, listening to the owl outside my window, and the breeze blowing through the big trees.

Downstairs, in the basement family room, I remembered the place where we gathered for family time in the earlier years.  I remembered the old tones of dial-up internet, as I started the journey into online moderation.  I remembered when our only shower was downstairs, and how in the winter it felt so nice to stand in front of the little wall heater to warm up after bathing there.  I remember a teenaged son coming in to tell me he’d just hit a deer with my first new car.  I remembered another son coming home so damaged after a terrible bike accident.  I remember school backpacks, coats, gloves, and hats piled on the floor.  I remember carrying loads of laundry out the door to the clothesline. I remembered a little girl sitting on my lap, begging to look at the Beanie Baby website with me.  I remembered a very scary night when I had a stroke in that basement family room.

I went outside, and remembered four graduation parties, with friends and family gathered under the big tree.  I remembered a preteen boy hitting a golf ball from the back lawn out over two neighbor’s houses and into the road.  I remembered fireworks in the driveway (just kidding, that isn’t legal).  I remembered Baby the Wonder Dog, and Rufus Bighead.  I remembered Bob and Chia, the hedgehogs, and their hoglets Wedgie and Melvin.  I remembered the kitties, Jimmy (who we thought was Jenny), Shirley Goodness, and Mercy. I remembered all the gardens.  I remembered bonfires, rainy slip-and-slides, snowmen, basketball hoops.  I remembered my dad building the steps into the terraced wall, so we could get to the upper yard more easily.  I remembered the many, many times I’d stand behind the shed, under the crabapple tree, gazing out onto tranquil woods and farmland, just to pray in peace and solitude.

I stood again in that spot behind the shed, with recent rain dripping down on me from the tree, and let myself remember more.  I remembered confronting some hard things, long after the time when I should have. I remembered the terrible lonely time of being alone with pain, staying quiet in order to give the hard things a chance to heal without interference. I remembered some final conversations, when I learned that love and commitment was gone, and life was changing totally, completely, and forever. I remembered the most terrible part -- having to share that news with my dearest people, who had been completely in the dark. It was a brutal sucker punch that had to be administered one after another, to the people I love most.

I remembered how God (and His people) had sustained me, and I praised Him for it.

And then I thought… that’s enough looking back.

I thought about my future, which, honestly, is hard to do, but getting easier.  I love my home, the place that one of my grandchildren spontaneously dubbed “Nonny’s happy house.”  There is still a lot of sadness, even some shame -- this isn’t in line with my belief system, after all.  I’ve worked through much of that, and I have hope.  I’ve done things that I never thought I’d do.  Sure, I didn’t want to do those things, but I did them.  I’m abundantly blessed by my four children, their four spouses, and my ever-expanding group of (nearly) perfect grandchildren.  My brother, my sisters-in-love, my church, my friends… I can’t even mention my Dad and stepmom without choking back tears.  Their love has sustained me.

So, it’s goodbye to the house on the hill, the place where cardinals visited often, and deer danced just out back.  The place with the “four season view,” the woodpeckers, and the croaking frogs after a rain.  The place with the tree that held the best fairy house my grandchildren ever saw.  The place where four precious children learned and grew and left, then returned with a beloved spouse, and sweet babies in their arms.  

Goodbye, house on the hill.  You’ve been good to me.