The Final Box
I hate moving. Dread it actually. How people swap from one home to another for long periods of time I will never understand. It would give me ulcers. It’s one of the reasons I never went into the military. Okay, there are several reasons I didn’t enlist, the idea of physical strain and being told what to do at the top of that list, but the idea of packing all of my stuff into boxes and moving at the whim of higher ranking officials was somewhere on there as well.
As I said, I hate moving, but moving I am. I liked this house, too, which makes it kind of sad. It had been two years of transitions. The beachside home started with five residents, and then went to eight. At one point, three moved out and two moved in and a short while later another moved out. By the time we reached the new home back on the other side of the bridge another had ventured out on his own and I surmise by the end of the year another will leave the nest in order to make his mark on the world as well. Soon, I’ll never have to fight for the television, the computer will always be available and the Coke will not disappear over night with no one taking blame for the sudden disappearance. I’ll always have a quiet place to sit and read and ponder on how much I miss fighting for the television. But, for now it’s back to five.
One of the reasons I hate moving is because I am an accumulator of stuff. I have to pack those forty-seven rolls of undeveloped film into another box reminding myself how lazy I am in certain areas of my life. It wasn’t until my middle son was graduating high school that we had the pictures of his birth developed.
“See? You weren’t adopted as your brothers claimed.”
“You never had my baby pictures developed?” My unbelieving son asked.
“Think how waiting increased the nostalgic factor.” I reasoned. “We had you right there as a baby, spitting up and cooing and needing diaper changes. Now, we can look at that chubby little baby with the mop of black hair and get all teary-eyed at the memories.”
He rolled his eyes and went for a cigarette. I really can’t say I blame him. He knows better. After all, he’s been out of high school for two years and we still haven’t had his senior pictures developed. I’m thinking of giving them to him as a wedding present when that day comes.
My collection of books is another reason I don’t look forward to moving. I have quite a few editions. Over three thousand. A box of fantasy is extremely heavy if you didn’t know. To take a box crammed full of exotic adventures and carry it from the den to the truck and then from the truck to the new den is bad enough when it’s one box. It’s back breaking when there are thirty. I think this may be why the girls had us join the gym at the start of the year. They knew this was coming.
When you move you also discover that you’re not as neat as you thought you were. I did, at least. Some furniture had never been moved since the original move-in day, so we never took the vacuum under it or a rag behind it. Dust was in places I forgot were actually places. Immediately, new rules were burned into the new house manifest. All furniture must be moved monthly and vacuumed underneath and dusted for free-loading spiders. The girls put me in charge of the abundance of bookshelves and the bill never left Congress.
Moving is a great way to find those things that inevitably got swallowed up by the force of the house. Why, under one sofa alone I found three pens, an old baseball, an ear ring neither girl claimed, which I quickly disposed of, and fifty-seven cents. I also remembered where that safe place was in my house that I stuck things that I wanted to remember where they were but forgot when it came time to find the stuff again.
Ah, the things we learn upon moving.
A friend of ours took a picture of the inside view of our front doors and with a computer program wrote the words “The End” across the doors. That’s the other reason I hate moving. Life is already full of endings to relish getting more. The house was a good chapter with good memories and more fun than most people pack into a decade, nevertheless two years. Beginnings are nice; endings not so much.
So, with the inanimate bundled up in boxes and trucks and carted off to another formation of cinder blocks and wood just waiting for us to breathe life into them, I stood in the vast emptiness and took it all in. The egg-shell walls had been scrubbed clean and my mother could now eat off of the floor if she ever stopped by. It had that new home smell once again and it saddened me. Still, there was, for me, one box left to pack. Alone, with the house empty and quiet, I carried the box with no walls from room to room and carefully filled it with the memories of Sherwood Avenue.
I started right at the front walk and porch where a swing used to sit as one of the residents would stretch out on it and read, or a mother and daughter would slide back and forth as they discussed life and growing up. I could hear the voices and see the smiles of contentment. I looked to the place where teens would hide and sneak their cigarettes, which they swore they didn’t smoke, and whisper about their friends. Gone was the fichus that had stood guard in its fat gray pot, having survived several moves already. It now kept its vigil over the humans that inhabited another home.
I stared at the double doors that had ushered hundreds of people into our oasis from the drama that is called life. And our home was an oasis. We had made sure of that. It was a place of peace, where troubles could either be forgotten for awhile or cried through with understanding ears and sympathetic shoulders. It was a place of music and laughter and imagination. And so, I packed the memories of the costume parties and the cook-outs and the game nights that seemed to happen every weekend.
For the final time, I opened those doors and entered two years of our lives. More voices echoed in the silent house as memories called from their rooms not wanting to be abandoned to echo off the walls unknown for the rest of times. I think this is why some people think houses are haunted. It’s actually the ghosts of past memories left behind that have nowhere to go and refuse to be forgotten.
To my left, in what we called the fireplace room, I heard the young giggles of tiny hands holding little sticks with marshmallows on the end that they wanted to burn but not eat. I smiled as I saw the four adults and then the three and then the five and even more, sitting on sofas and on the floor, sharing dreams and lives, hopes and fears. We held books that we never read because we always became lost in the quiet conversation of discovery. Games were played and love was made as lives intertwined into the depths of each other. These went into the box.
From the television room I heard echoes of my name being called and felt the tiny tug of a hand as I’m dragged into the room to watch the Wonder Pets with her. “This is serious. We have to help them.” I laugh as I realize how often the girls and I still repeat that line. Occasionally, I find myself watching that silly show even though the small girl is long gone.
I stare at the spots where we had to have two trees at Christmas because some liked formal, pretty trees and some liked fun, chaotic trees. A little girl and I named them that too. The Pretty Tree and the Present Tree. They’re still called that even till today and probably always will be. Some things should never change. I step into the kitchen where so much was shared by family and friends and I don’t mean just the food. We celebrated several birthdays and even one girl’s graduation. A grandmother doing Jell-O shots with her grand-kids is a memory to hold onto; so, I did.
I stand in the silent Master Bedroom staring at the dual sinks in the Master Bath. I can hear the girls laughing as cocktails are sipped, make-up applied and hair curled only to be straightened again. The pre-game shots are toasted as we prepare for nights of dancing or the many costume parties we’ve had and attended. We’ve been pirates, Dr. Suess characters, school girls and referees and much more. I can’t help smiling as I hear the giggles and bantering. I always knew we’d be late.
I glance at the glass sliding doors between bedrooms hearing the echo of a two-year old laughing as the curly-haired boy would close them without my knowledge as we played chase throughout the house. Of course, I would crash into them, glasses first and full force, doing my best to control my language as I did. It never stopped the game, however, and I wasn’t the only one to walk into the doors. Eventually, we put something decorative on the glass to give warning of it being closed.
Into the box went the nights of sitting up and talking through open bedroom doors, sharing stories and laughter. Glancing at the red-tile floor I hear the sound of a bouncing blue ball that scared years from two ladies’ lives in the middle of the night while the sleeping one was blamed for the ghostly trick. No one ever knew where the ball came from and I find myself wondering if it made its way to the new house. Was it a left over memory from previous residents?
From room to room I travel and images of surfboards, Legos, Ariel dolls, toy cars and vampire books can be seen filling up the corners. I see theater posters and surf cut-outs plastering the walls and several street signs that suddenly materialized out of thin air. The house was very well lived in.
Carrying my box I step outside onto the back porch where people knew to find us instead of going to the front door. You always knew who had been to our home before by how they entered the house. Only special occasions called for front door usage. Serious talks, bantering conversations, cook-outs and morning rituals happened on this ten by twelve concrete slab. It was the best place in the house and the most used.
Standing there, I glanced in the direction of a nearby road where two women with very few things in common stumbled their way home in their inebriated state, doing their best to hold each other up and failing miserably.
“You peed in the middle of the street?” I had asked amazed.
“I – I had to go.” She said in a State of Emergency voice . The shorter of the two came to her defense through drunken giggles. “She was safe. We were outside the police department.”
The logic of the intoxicated.
I see the three walking around the block lost in idle chit chat and goals of the future, the nights we walked down to the beach and back. There was one night that two of the four pranced along the sandy shore celebrating life and too much rum and vodka as the stars kept watch overhead and the other two held their modesty. We were all different. Yet, in a way, we were also the same.
Coming back to the house, I smile at an old tire swing where several little ones demanded to be spun until dizziness made them giddy with uncontrolled laughter. I usually had to quit long before they did.
Walking the outside I think of all the holiday decorations that now rest in tubs in a new garage waiting for new nails and hooks along with new sight-seers. One nail being left behind catches my eye. I slide my thumb over the head as my mind recalls the day I hammered it in as a little girl stood beside me watching. It rests on the outside door of the garage where a Christmas wreath was hung. It wasn’t high like most wreaths but down low, at her level, because she wanted to see it without having to look up. I had allowed her to pick the spot and it never changed, at least, not while we lived there.
Opening the garage doors, my eyes soak in the now empty room. Empty, but not silent. Off the walls echo the voices of teen-agers who had made this space their hangout. The cigarettes were no longer hidden and the music blared only to be over-powered by uproarious laughter. As the back porch was to the adults, the garage was to them. They would sit on a ratty old couch with stuffing sticking out as they laughed, cried, schemed and dreamed.
Looking at the house, now stabbed through the heart with a For Sale sign, I think of all the life that has been had in those eleven rooms – the pumpkin carvings, the teen-age party that got out of control, the adult parties that were never in control, the hookah nights and the nights you can’t write about but make you smile thinking about them and the nights the girls and I got just a little bit of quiet. The kids grew up and so did the adults – well, for the most part.
Of course, there were sad moments and trying times, fights between adults and between kids, but those memories, except for perhaps one or two, I choose to leave behind. The scars remain and that is enough.
As I get back to our new home, I search out a box of knick-knacks and photos. Inside I find an 8 x 11 black picture frame of eleven people clutching hands and walking down the beach, laughing and smiling; eleven people who had shared a life, some growing together and others apart, but all important. With a smile and a nod I place the picture back on the black bookcase where it resided on Sherwood Avenue. It’s as if the box of memories is on display, and then I’m called to pound in new nails.
This new house will hold new memories. New voices will echo off the walls in quiet moments of the night. New smells will recall old scenes and add to the life that lies ahead of us. The cats have even found new hiding spots. The house is like a blank piece of paper just waiting for new adventures, new romances and new stories. I have no doubt that it won’t be disappointed.
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