The Mom Stop column: Memories last even after we say goodbye
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
In the back of most people’s minds, I imagine there is a “home place” or family table - a place where the family of our childhoods gather in our memories, long after loved ones have passed.
For me, it’s largely my grandparent’s home, the place where they lived for 50 years, raising their children, the place where we gathered around the dining room table for most holidays and events, for everything from Christmas to birthdays, to the time I announced I was getting married. When I think about family and childhood, I don’t necessarily think about the home where I grew up, but it’s my grandparents’ house, making cookies with grandma, standing on a stool at her island, or lying under the Christmas tree to look at the lights as a child.
The family homes of our loved ones can play a critical part of who we are, or what memories bind us to family members after they are gone.
My grandmother sold the home that played such an integral role in my childhood back in 2011, and it was difficult, but I knew why she needed to do it.
But now, I’m facing the loss of another home place of sorts - the last “family home” that has been around my entire life. It’s the home where my dad has lived these last 20 years, and the house that my grandparents - his parents - bought in Orange County, California, back in 1973.
I didn’t spend much time in that house growing up, because California was so far away and my dad still lived in Alabama until I went to college. But the sight of pistachio-green shag rug and the smell of mothballs brings me back to that place.
In college, after my dad moved to California to help take care of his mother, I visited that house more frequently. The smell of flowering plants and the sea breeze coming in from the Pacific Ocean smells like San Clemente, and in my mind I can see my dad and how he’d sit in a rickety lawn chair on the front stoop, smoking a cigarette and watching the ocean on the horizon. If the air is really clear, you can see Catalina Island. Or when my kids blow bubbles, I’m reminded of the “giant bubble wand” my dad made us when we were kids, and how, on a visit to California in 2012, my dad entertained my 3-year-old daughter in his backyard with that same bubble wand. When I see TV dinners in the grocery aisle, I’m reminded of that kitchen freezer and how it was jammed full of them. My dad never really did cook anything he couldn’t heat up in a microwave.
And when I close my eyes, I can still hear the sliding of the pocket door of my dad’s bedroom, hear him shuffle down the hall in his slip-on black Crocs. I can hear him open the door to the bedroom where I always stayed and hear him say, “Good morning, my dear.” How much I wish I could still hear him still say that. He died last year.
But the house is still around. The front stoop still smells like incoming ocean breeze and coastal flowers. The pocket door still makes its quiet rumble. The TV dinners in the freezer are long gone, and so, too, is the shag carpet and the smell of mothballs. For the last year, my sister and I have slowly emptied out the house. For the last six months, we renovated it, gutting the master bathroom, tearing out the green mosaic tile kitchen countertops my dad has so lovingly installed himself, in favor of white quartz that would be more pleasing to the public; and we painted the house inside and out.
I hope my dad would be proud.
But the time has come to say goodbye to that house, the last of our family homesteads. In a way, it feels like saying goodbye to our loved ones all over again. Because inside that house, I can still imagine my grandmother piddling around in the back bedroom, or see my dad wave from the front porch as he did the last time I saw him. But I know they are no longer there.
Saying goodbye is hard. But I know that it’s time. At least I can take my memories with me.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.