The WideEyedParents must have been insane in 1980. Or incredibly tired of Philadelphia. Because they bought a ramshackle Victorian farmhouse that stank of dog pee and had questionable electrics in a rural New Jersey town along a remote marine estuary. The paint peeled. The ticks out in the yard bit. The lights flickered when the wind blew too hard. I for one, preferred to avoid the spooky front hall – still don’t like it to this day.
Our fictive kin the WideEyedHeinrichs, came for the first annual Memorial Day picnic in 1981. We kids drank ourselves sick on store brand orange and grape soda while our parents lounged on the epically huge screen porch. We didn’t know it yet in 1981, but that screen porch would become the summer epicenter of our lives there. Last week I couldn’t watch when two of the WideEyedBrothers moved the old wicker furniture off of the porch and onto the moving truck.
We all expected my parents to die there. Not, like, tomorrow, but eventually. But then all of the WEFs moved away, Virginia, Arizona, New York (for now) and the parents were left rattling around with an attic full of junk and decades of memories tied into all of the rooms, decades of stuff weighing down the spaces. They are moving on.
The old blue boat we had left rotting in the yard for 30 years, gone. The brown boat we all water skied on during our high school and college years, gone. Brother J’s old blue pickup, still there. Maybe the new owners will like it.
I scrubbed and packed every room of the house last week. It went on the market today. Everyone believes I went down to help out my parents and sure, that’s true. I think I also went to spend time with the places and spaces of my childhood. My old bedroom is green now instead of a nasty peeling blue wall paper. But the light shines just as brightly into the room and when I crawled out the window onto the porch roof to wash windows, I could clearly smell and taste the Camel shorts I secretly smoked out there as a teenager. Yes, I got caught.
The living room, where I lurked as a sullen teen with MTV, is now an elegant parlor. The study hasn’t changed much since the Christmas we got Tetris and Brother M played it for 8 straight hours on the computer in there. When I was washing woodwork in the front hall, I snagged my fingernail on one of the nails that we used to hang our Christmas stockings as kids. When we moved there, we were seriously concerned that there was no fireplace for Santa, but allowed ourselves to be convinced that the steps in the front hall would work ok.
Hamish the Corgi and I walked down the lane every day while I was there. The same lane I ran down to catch the school bus and trudged home on after long, boring days of sitting still and listening, listening, listening. Hamish and I went down to the dock for dawn and evening light each day. I listened to the wind in the marsh grasses and together we took big sniffs of low tide. Birds cheeped. Fish jumped. The weirdly salty sound of the tide against the dock gurgled. One day was clear and still, another day I saw bands of fog that let in nature and the sky but erased the other houses down along the river. I think I realized why I feel so comfortable in the remote Aleutian Islands for research – they smell like home.
The home of my childhood is on the market. The house where my parents dreamed of a better life. The place where they gave us a good life. I hope it sells richly and fast, to a family looking for what we had there. Good bye Tuckahoe house. See you in my memories.