Saturday, September 03, 2005
Life as a house
I recently flew to Montreal to be there when my parents moved out of their home and into a nearby condo. The primary goal of this trip was to help them through the process. My father, as I've written about online and in print, has not been well. So being there was one of those things a kid simply does because being anywhere else just wouldn't seem logical. Not after all they did to help me get where I am today.
A quiet, secondary goal of mine was to somehow record how I felt as the home where they raised me and my siblings - I have an older sister and an older brother - was emptied and left behind. Every time I was there, I found myself taking pictures of everything I could think of.
I didn't just shoot rooms, though. For example, I shot closeups of the window locks and the heating vents. Why? Because they reminded me of what it was like to be in my room on a cold winter's night. I'd double-check the locks to make sure the old-style windows were sealed as tightly as their pre-energy conservation design allowed. Then I'd wave my hand over the heating vents to make sure warm air was coming out. It was always warm, but the ritual never changed.
And so on. I captured images of all the little things in the house that stuck in my memory.
As I was doing this, I didn't feel overtly sad. It was more like really reflective. But I did want to tell the story of the house, because so much of our early lives had evolved within it. I kept wondering which picture would be the quintessential one; the one that would, in one simple frame, summarize what this house meant, and where we went from here. This picture hit me as soon as I took it.
It's the moulding in the living room. The story it tells is a simple one: in its beaten, worn-paint, imperfect form, it tells us that the house served its purpose. In just over four decades, a young couple brought home three children, raised them, then sent them off into the world. They opened the door on an ever-expanding extended family, and they always managed to find empty chairs at the dinner table for whoever dropped in. They experienced the loss of their own parents and other close friends and relatives. They became grandparents and welcomed us and our children on visits. They retired, and they experienced illness.
Even as they continued to evolve, life never stopped changing around them, and the house gradually began to reflect that with each faded stretch of wallpaper and traffic-worn passage of carpet. It was time to go.
To me, this image reflects all I felt as I left for the last time. It was time to say goodbye to a place that had been my home for so long. I haven't lived there in what seems like a lifetime, and my home is clearly the one my wife and I have built for our children. But it was all I knew for a very long while, so it only made sense for the pensive writer in me to reflect on what was, and what would come next.
Eeyore often says, "It's just a house." Maybe so. But it was my house. And it was time to close the door on it one last time.
Your turn: How do you define "home"?