Written on the plane home, 12/21/11, hours before the Solstice:
This story began last June, when David and I left for his family’s annual get together on the Jersey shore, and David’s father finally admitted the care arrangements for Betty, David’s mother, needed to change. Or maybe the story began even longer ago, maybe when David was born, or when his parents met, or when they fell in love and married. Or maybe this story began on Monday morning, when we woke up before dawn to catch our flight to Baltimore. When I went out to get the paper, the hard frost on the lawn was sparkling in the lights from the porch.
We flew to Baltimore and rented a car to drive to Lancaster. We were there to do the final sorting of David’s parents’ belongings, to be at the house as the estate auctioneers emptied it, and for David to sign the closing papers for the sale of the house. David’s sister-in-law met us at the house, and for the first time since David’s father died and his mother went into Country Meadows’ Memory Connection Support Unit, Lars was able to look through the house and think about what she might want, what her son Owen might want to help preserve his memory of his grandparents. Lars looked at paintings and lamps and small pieces of furniture. I went through Betty’s desk and was again struck by her good taste in stationary and note cards, impressed by the box of cards sorted by occasion – anniversary, get well, birthday. Lars and I together found a box of beautiful antique linens and agreed they needed to be kept in the family, the delicate lace of the placemats and napkins making them probably impractical to use, but too pretty to let go.
I still remember the first time I visited David’s parents and was struck by how beautifully their house was decorated. A stunning and eclectic collection of art and ceramics and silver from their world travels were arranged attractively in the living room and dining room, even as the kitchen and porch and sunroom were sinking under the inevitable accumulation of stuff that comes with aging. David and I spent a good part of this summer sorting through the stuff that wasn’t going to be interesting to the estate auctioneers, the cases of paper towels and endless bottles of dishwashing liquid, the stacks of old newspapers and magazines, the banded piles of Christmas cards with return labels on the envelopes but nothing written inside, the countless paperclips and big black binder clips, the cough drops and pens and yellow paper pads, the cases of Coke and pyramid piles of soup cans.
Lars rented a small storage space, and we spent yesterday taking loads of her final selections and ours to be stored until we can come back with a car, her with a truck. More clothing was taken to Goodwill. All day the estate auctioneers were moving quickly through the house, disassembling the family home room by room.
This morning I ran through the neighborhood as I did this summer, admiring the grand old trees and lovely homes and yards. I returned to 1503 Hillcrest Avenue for the last time, and the auctioneers were there, ready to do the final clearing, including the last room, the bedroom we’d slept in. David walked from empty room to empty room before we left, saying good-bye. I thought about a dinner we had with friends a couple of months ago. Two of the men at the dinner had been at a funeral earlier that day for a colleague who’d died, in his 60’s, of cancer. One of the men raised his glass in a toast and said, “The wheel just keeps turning, and here we are, on that turning wheel. So let’s enjoy ourselves.”
I thought about that wheel, how it’s been whirring in the background of my life for years now and will only get more insistent in the years ahead, I’m sure. I woke up in an emptied house and had an email from Adrienne, with a video of Emilio watching the candles being lit for his first Hanukkah. He burbled and chattered and ambled around the room, and I got up and made coffee. When it came time to take a final photograph this morning, the clusters of bright red berries on the big holly tree in the yard were what struck me. Already, the lawn beneath the tree was sprinkled red with fallen berries