I know I promised some of you I'd blog about boy scout camp, and I haven't, but this is on my mind right now. Last week we helped my mother move into an "alternative retirement" community. What that means is "semi-assisted" living. It was tough.
For 56 years my mother has lived in the same house. It's the only home my sister and I knew, until we moved out into our own places. As kids, I remember going to my grandparents' houses. My mother's mother lived in an apartment in Brooklyn. It was the first floor of a brownstone. I remember my sister and I used to love sneaking around through the servants' corridors (of course, they had no servants, but the brownstones were built assuming that everyone had one, and the "secret passages" were still there so the servants could serve without being seen). My father's parents lived in a house on a huge piece of land (1 acre, remember I was a city kid) way out on Long Island. There I remember raking leaves in the fall, picking blueberries from their patch in the summer, and exploring all the nooks and crannies of the house and property.
I remember every holiday or event we spent at my grandparents' houses. The smells, the sounds, the feel of the carpeting. The spots of color on the wall from the lights on the Christmas tree. The fake fireplace. The small wooden farm toys from Germany. The bronze elephant commemorating the opening of the Brooklyn bridge. The bright light of the sun in the kitchen. The best coffee I have ever had. From the Christmas goose to the Easter egg hunts on the huge lawn their houses were a wonderland.
But home was our house. We played games in the basement, which my father had finished himself. I remember when he installed a steel I-beam and cut the lolly columns (he was an engineer and a welder) to make the basement bigger, and I remember him installing the tile floor and paneling. There was the patio we sat out on on summer nights, trying to find satellites and meteors. There was the swing set, which we used pretty much every day until it rusted through and fell down. We went all over the world, and even to the moon and planets on that swing set.
When we got a bit older, and the swings were gone, we added on a kitchen, pushed out into the backyard. I remember many family meals around that kitchen table. There were breakfasts, with the sunshine pouring through the east-facing window. Lunches eaten on the run as we interrupted our play. Dinners and family conversation. Homework on school nights, and family games in the summer time.
My mother's mother had a stroke and moved in with us. It took her a long time to recover, but we relished having grandma in our home full time. No need to take the train into Brooklyn, even though we missed her old apartment. After a few years, she passed away, and her room became the computer room. My father's parents both passed away, and although my aunt and uncle moved in, and kept the place pretty much the same, it wasn't the same. But our home was still there.
The next big change in the house came after my sister and I were grown and gone, with kids of our own, when my dad battled cancer and parkinson's disease. He was wheelchair bound, and my mother put a deck and ramp on the back of the house so we could wheel him in and out easily. The den was now his bedroom, and my kids used to run in there first thing when we visited, and jump on him. I remember sitting by his bed having conversations, and the kids putting on shows for him. He eventually passed away in that very room.
But through all the changes the house was there, and it was still "my" house, full of memories for me, and now for my kids, as they played and explored when we visited my parents. And time went on.
My mother is 85 now, and her health isn't what it once was. The house became difficult for her. A light bulb would burn out or a faucet would leak and she would have to call a neighbor or wait until we visited her to fix it. She was blessed with excellent neighbors and lots of wonderful friends nearby. Still, the stairs became hard to navigate, and so she pretty much lived on the first floor.
About two years ago she decided to move somewhere easier for her. She looked around, and chose the "alternative retirement" community relatively near our house. She wanted to move while she was still mobile enough to get out and make friends. On the other hand, she really hated to leave her long time close friends and neighbors and her parish. For our part we told her we would support whatever decision she made. She dragged her feet, and then there was the house to sell and all.
Finally, moving day came, and it snuck up on me. Furniture had been given away. Garage sales had been held, and yet there was a ton of stuff to move (3.5 tons, we later learned from the movers). Imagine moving from a 5 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with a full basement, garage and attic to a one bedroom apartment! There was a whirlwind of packing, moving, cleaning and unpacking. Some of the stuff had been taken by my sister and niece. Other stuff wouldn't fit and went to our house. I'm sitting here staring at a stack of boxes filling most of my living room because we just don't know where to put them yet.
I have many observations about mom's new home. It is a lot like being at a resort. There are game rooms, a pool, a dining hall, stores etc. The room is a bit like a hotel room. The building is a big square with a courtyard, and the apartments have a hall between them, so there are windows only on one wall. Since mom's apartment faces the courtyard, there really isn't any direct sunlight. That kind of bothers me after the house she left, which was very sunny. Also, I know it's a bonus to be in the company of people her own age, but the lack of children or even middle aged people makes it seem a bit flat.
It wasn't until the next day that it began to hit me. I will never see the house I grew up in again, or if by some chance I do, it will likely be completely different. I feel like part of my life is gone. I feel selfish for feeling that way. After all, it's only a house, and I didn't really spend much time there the last few years. My mom is the one who's important, and she's probably missing the house more than me. My home now is here in NJ with my wife and children. It will take a while for my mom's new home to become her home, but it will never be my home. My job now is to make a home for my children, so that they and their kids will have great memories too.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Sunday, September 06, 2009 Mike 1 comment