Monday, August 3, 2009


Everything in the past few months has been rolling toward this week. In a few days I'm leaving for upstate New York, to my hometown, to my parents, to my high school reunion, to my house.

It's just a house. A big white house with a dozen windows and two patio doors that look out on 26-mile-long, 2-mile-wide, 750-feet-deep Seneca Lake. A house my parents had built when I was 11 years old, when we moved from the comfort of a neighborhood filled with childhood friends and sidewalk games out to the boonies of the lake. I traded evening games of kickball and kick-the-can for the ceaseless sound of water and boats. Traded walks home from school for the late afternoon bus with its bouncing green seats and headaches.

I only lived there six or seven years, and I didn't want to live there in the first place. But I can't help but mourn, and I can't help but face that in just a little over a week, I'll be really saying goodbye.

Because it was in that house that I packed up my Barbies and baby dolls and stuck Shawn Cassidy, Scott Baio, and Andy Gibb on the wall.

It was in this house, in my bedroom with the blue-and-green shag carpet and the light green walls, that I began writing, recording hundreds of grievances, making lists of "friends" and "best friend" and "very best friends," copying quotes and poetry, dreaming, wishing, wondering. I have still a hefty stack of journals from those days, and I swear I remember writing each word. The indelible memory of ink.

It was in this house that cabinet doors slammed and tensions tightened as the teen years spread their typical toxic powder in every nook and cranny. And in those same years, this house held Norman Rockwell moments, board games in the basement and bowls of buttery popcorn. The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and M*A*S*H. Ping-pong tournaments and endless games of cards. Laughter and slamming doors.

In this house friendships were cemented and stretched, countless overnights and hours of laughing, those uncontrollable spasms of girl-laughing that we lose in adulthood. And slumber parties oozing with a curious and nearly lethal mix of teen-aged angst, jealousy, utter devotion, and a zest for life. Girlfriends in striped pajamas bearing sleeping bags, pillows, and tales.

It was in this house, in the living room with the burgundy carpet and views of the lake, that I sank into the gold-colored sofa every evening after swim practice, exhausted, craving just 20 minutes of oblivious sleep before dinner. And then sitting at our long table by the wall with the mirror etched with ducks, dinner of meat, potatoes, salad shining with oil and vinegar. My mother's fried chicken. A bowl of raspberries and vanilla ice cream. Dad, peeling apples.

In this house my heart fluttered to love and fell apart broken, over and over, by a skinny boy with crooked teeth and a cracking voice who begged for me to write him notes and then stomped on my fragile heart. Gone now, that one, these 20 years, and yet it is in this house that he used to come to me in dreams, floating outside my bedroom window, beckoning in penance.

And in this house I grew strong in body and mind and soul, and loved a sweet boy with blue eyes whose friendship far surpassed all those lists of "best friends" and "very best friends" from a few years before. And in our young, strong love we sailed on hot summer days in a green-and-white Sunfish and watched the moon rise over the velvet lake, and I listened for the sound of pebbles tossed gently against my window, beckoning me.

Inevitably the roll of the waves against the shore worked its magic, and moonlight sails and the cry of a loon sang me home. It was this house I left at 18 to return only on school holidays, sharing pots of tea with my mother as my father shuffled papers. And after college graduation I came back to that house as a stepping stone to my new life.

It was in that dining room that Randy proposed to me on a September evening, holding a ring and all the promises we could conceive of and all those we didn't know existed then. It was in my room with the blue-and-green shag carpet that I tried on my wedding dress and veil and ached to be far, far away and yet already missing the silhouette of trees against lake.

It's just a house, really. A house that I entered at eleven, pouting, with a box of Barbies and left years later, stretching toward today. It's a house soon to be swept clean of our family dust, walls painted over and cracks mended. Carpet will be pulled up and cabinets torn down, rickety beach steps replaced with something solid and nicely stained. I like to think my mother's roses will always spread their sweet fragrance all over the yard. What I do know, though, is that the morning sun will always turn the lake to diamonds, and the moonlight will always create the perfect path for a midnight sail. And memories—they stick around for a long, long time.


  1. Wow-this makes me so sad. I have completely different memories of the house, being a grandchild in it, and I lived in it only as an infant, so I only remember visiting. But that house holds so many wonderful memories, the deepest snows I ever experienced, making houses under the ping-pong table, learning bits of German, the list goes on and on...haven't been there in 9 years, but I sure wish I could go back one last time....

  2. While my Dad still lives in the house I grew up in (heading there this afternoon), this reminds me of my Grandparents house. I spent my summers with them. I loved that house. Now Grandma is gone & Grandpa is in a nursing home & the house is sold. It's so hard to let it all go but you are so right - the memories are still there.

  3. Sigh, oh the emotions attached to houses... the memories...

  4. I miss the house of my childhood, and the house of my teen years - had to say goodbye to both.

    So many memories you have! Treasure them always.

  5. Oh yes, M*A*S*H! It does seem fitting to say it then, Sarah; Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.

    A very sweet parting post.


  6. Your story is so romantic and bittersweet. My parents sold the house my dad built and I grew up in just a couple months before I married. I was not sentimental about it, because I was leaving anyway, starting a new life, and they were going to be missionaries in Argentina. I was happy for them. Now they live on the same land right next to the old house. I've never lived in their house but the land has such memories for me that I would be very sad if they ever sold it and I couldn't go back. Hope you have a good trip - make one more memory there.

  7. This is just beautiful! Your words move my heart and soul in places that are not often touched.


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