I’m standing in a spot on the driveway where I’ve stood a million times, looking up at my bedroom window. And hoping I can make it through the next half hour without falling apart.
Almost seven years have passed since I’ve been to this house where I grew up. My mother died of cancer here in 2005. My father, too, seven years before that. I’m in Nashville for my high school reunion. At my urging, my brother called the people who bought the house to ask if he and my sister and I could visit while I was in town.
In an extraordinarily gracious gesture, they said yes.
I’m the first to arrive. I pull through the driveway and park by the garage. The basketball goal is gone. So are the fishing boat and the tarp-covered pile of firewood. But the split-rail fence is still here. The fence I partially knocked down when, at age sixteen, I backed my parents’ enormous Lincoln Town Car out of the garage and didn’t cut sharply enough.
The yard looks great. The trees are taller than I remember and the lawn is perfect. Likewise the shrubs. But there are no flowers anywhere. Where are Mother’s Black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers and Shasta daisies? An elaborate birdfeeder hangs from a low limb of the oak tree, but there’s not a bird in sight. Probably because the feeder is empty of seed. But no matter. It’s so far from the kitchen window that you could hardly see a bird if one came to call.
My siblings and their families arrive and we make our way up the steep sloping sidewalk to the house. The new owners greet us warmly and invite us in. Again, I hope I’m strong enough to do this. But the urge to cry is quickly squelched. I’m too busy gaping at what’s been done to the house.
If I’d been magically dropped inside instead of walking in, I might not even recognize it.
The wall between the den and living room is gone, as is the one between the den and the kitchen. Which is one of the fanciest, high-end kitchens I’ve ever seen. Gone is the blue-and-white windmill wallpaper. Gone are the Formica countertops. Gone is the tiny pantry. And the double wall-oven where Mother
cooked turkey and dressing and Karo-nut pies every Thanksgiving for thirty-seven years. Now it’s all state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances and granite countertops and a huge island surrounded by leather bar stools.
The upstairs bedrooms haven’t changed much. New paint, new light fixtures, new doorknobs. Still our bedrooms, nonetheless.
It’s what the new owners have done downstairs that’s really shocking.
The closet under the stairs, where we stored the vacuum cleaner and card table and jigsaw puzzles, is now a wet bar. The rec room, my brother’s bedroom, and my dad’s tiny home office have morphed into a breathtaking master suite, complete with a spacious sitting area, exercise equipment, and the fanciest bathroom I’ve ever set foot in. Both the gigantic bathtub and the gigantic shower stall have a perfect view of the gigantic flat-screen TV that hangs on the wall.
The tour is over. And what I want to say to this pleasant young couple is this: “What in the world were you thinking??? This house was fine just the way it was!!!”
Here’s what I say instead: “It’s beautiful.” And then I add “May I use the restroom?”
They nod. So I head back upstairs to the hall bathroom and lock myself in and wistfully admire all that’s been done to update it. And then I do something I’m certain crosses the line of respecting other people’s privacy. I open the door of the linen closet. My mother’s sheets and towels and tablecloths are gone, of course, replaced by those of a stranger.
But here’s the weird thing. The closet smells exactly the same as it did for the almost forty years I called this house home. For that, I am grateful.
(June 24, 2012)