What Will be Left Behind

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All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~Anotole France

***

Anne realized that the end of their life in this dear place drew nigh, and that she must face the fact bravely.  But how her heart ached!

“It will be like tearing something out of my life,” she sobbed.  “And oh, if I could hope that come nice folk would come here in our place–or even that it would be left vacant.  That itself would be better than having it over-run with some horde who know nothing of the geography of dreamland, and nothing of the history that has given this place its soul and its identity.  And if such a tribe come here the place will go to rack and ruin in no time–an old place goes down so quickly if it is not carefully attended to.  They’ll tear up my garden–and let the Lombardies get ragged–and the paling will come to look like a mouth with half the teeth missing–and the roof will leak–and the plaster fall–and they’ll stuff pillows and rags in broken window panes–and everything will be all out-at-elbows.”  ~Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

***

Shaun is out of the Army now, and has the beard and hair to prove it.  The other day, in public, I saw him out of the corner of my eye and didn’t recognize him.  He came up and lightly tapped me on the shoulder, and I whirled around, wondering indignantly why this total stranger hadn’t just said “excuse me” to get my attention.

Because it was my husband, that’s why.

Being that Shaun is now out of the military, we have decided that it is in our best interest to move to another town.  I am the type of person who becomes content where she is, and the idea of picking up and starting over in a new place is both exciting and overwhelmingly scary.  Part of me keeps asking, “can’t I just stay here?”  We have carved out a little life for ourselves here, with great determination–not the least part of which is the house we bought four years ago.  Like Anne, I’ve sewn my affections into this place, gotten to know it, searched out its history, improved it where I could, made do where I couldn’t, and above all, made it my own.  The idea of ripping out all those little stitches makes my heart ache.  The idea of selling it to someone else–of a stranger sleeping in my room, making dinner in my kitchen–makes me slightly queasy.

Of course, I know people buy and sell houses every day, and very few live in one house for their entire adulthood.  There’s a good possibility that I am overly sentimental.  But I have an idea–maybe a silly one–that places have their own character, formed not just by appearance or by vintage, but by the people who live in them.  Our house was built and maintained for many years by good, respectable people, only to fall into careless hands in the last few decades.  It’s a nice house, a friendly sort of house, but a little sad from neglect.  We’ve done our best in the last few years to improve it, make it look and function well again.  We’re not finished–not even close.  I hate the thought of someone coming along and undoing all of our work, of not appreciating this place for its value, which goes beyond that of a mere roof and four walls.

I’m going to miss so many things about this place.  I’m going to miss the smaller, cozy rooms.  I’m going to miss the large windows, the stained (not painted!) wood trim and hardwood floors–even the places where time has buckled them into fascinating waves.  I’m going to miss the creaky stairs.  In the winter, I will really miss the old metal radiators, which both I and the cats are fond of cuddling up to on a cold day.  I will miss our wall of bookshelves.  I’ll miss watching the sunset out my kitchen window as I make dinner, and the way the plants potted on the sill press their leaves against the glass, eager to catch the warm afternoon rays.

I’m going to miss the row of maples that line the creek in our backyard.  I’m going to miss the pleasure of my neighbor’s beautiful flower-garden.  I’ll miss the gardens we’ve worked to resurrect.  I will miss the little fairy-ring of crocuses in our side yard, the first heralds of spring.  I will miss the two apple trees next to the barn, which provide us with fluffy white blossoms in spring, and the most delicious apples in autumn.  I will miss the lilac bush, and opening the dining room windows wide to bring the fragrance indoors in May.  I will miss our two birch trees, which are gold and white in autumn, and provide a natural bird-feeder in winter.  I will miss sitting at my dining room table with Shaun, watching the birds dine year-round out the window.

I’m going to miss the town and neighborhood itself–the kind neighbors, the way kids feel free to come and go as they please, the ability to walk into the village and go shopping, go out to eat, to the farmer’s market, or, for me, to go to work.  I’ll miss being able to walk to the river, which is the reason this place exists.  I’ll miss seeing all the other beautiful houses that surround mine.

I will miss seeing our grand plans for this house take shape over the years.  I will miss the part of myself that has stitched itself into the fabric of this place, that will remain here when I am long gone.

***

There is an interesting spot next to our carriage house which I ungraciously call “the Junk Heap.”  It is exactly what I call it–the place where past inhabitants of our house used to toss their refuse.  Thanks to our dog, who first alerted me to its presence by digging it up, and to natural erosion, layer upon layer of fascinating material is being unearthed–Mother Nature conducting an archeological dig in my own backyard.  I’ve picked up shards of old glass in all colors, broken bottlenecks, pieces of ceramic, lumps of coal, and bits of metal hardware rusting away into dust.  I hold the pieces in my hands and wonder what they belonged to, who handled them, why they were finally tossed out.  There is one piece, a yellow bit of ceramic with a blue stripe running across it, which looks (to my untrained eye) like it might have once belonged to a mixing bowl.  It puts me in mind of a story related to me by a former resident of my neighborhood; how, when they were children in the ’40s, he and a friend would often come to this house and rub their noses against the front screen door.  The lady of the house, a very kind woman, would always give each of them a cookie.  But his mother always knew where he had been, and would scold him, because the tip of his nose would be blackened from pressing it against the screen.

Before we leave this house I will add my own items to the Junk Heap, some pieces of cracked ceramic dinnerware and some of my less-well-turned-out ceramic projects from college.  In the tradition of ceramicists–and of our house’s former residents–I will smash my pieces and leave them to return to the earth…or be picked up and pondered over by the next person who calls this place home.

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