This past weekend, my family had the unenviable task of packing up my parents’ house. They are not moving into a retirement home like many of their generation, but the feeling I had as we went through forty years of their accumulated possessions I would imagine was much the same. We were breaking up their household.
It was hard not to stop and look through pictures, or through the cards that my mother saved from all the special occasions in her life. We discovered high school yearbooks and a note she had written to herself when she was just a girl (to be opened when she turned 18!), wedding invitations and notecards and newspaper articles and more recently, directions for the umpteen prescriptions she and my father have to take.
Next weekend, the bulk of their items will make the long, long trip to Arizona, where my parents will soak the Wisconsin cold out of their bones. But some of the treasures are finding new homes with children and grandchildren. A crock pot here, a quilt or two there. A couple of tools, a foldable laundry basket, a set of pasta plates. I felt guilty taking these things away, although it was abundantly clear that my parents no longer had a use for them.
As I set them around my house though, or put them away in the closet or cupboard where they will now live, I was glad that I had them. Each time I use this particular glass or curl up under one of the blankets, I will think of my mother and father doing the same thing. They will be far away from me, but I will have these tangible pieces of their lives in the upper Midwest, and each time I pull that quilt around me, I will feel their arms wrapping me in their love, just like they were still nearby. I wondered if it was like this when I moved out as an eighteen-year-old. If my mother or father went into my room and laid on my bed or sat in the chair and picked up one of my books, just to be touching something that I had touched.
It occurred to me as we drove away from their house last evening that although I would visit it one more time, it would be a different place, empty of their belongings, empty of the family and the quarrels and the laughter and the love. It would only be a house and not a home. We would take the many memories with us, and like the quilt, we would pull them around us in quiet moments. I know that we will make new memories in their new place. But it will never be the same.