28 Jun Time to Say Goodbye
I can close my eyes and know I’m almost home by the angle of my body in the car and the degree of the turn. That motion, that particular sequence winding downhill to the house my father built and my mother designed, is so deeply programmed into my being. (Note: This is only safe if someone else is doing the driving. Don’t drive with your eyes closed.)
I wonder if my children feel the same way coming home here to Glens Falls, or if you need that change in elevation to be able to tell.
When you drive down the Killington pass, the Route 4 hill that goes by Deer’s Leap, those soft green mountains fold in around you like your mother’s arms as you nestle in close. Home. The center of the map that’s in your bones and blood, where all other places are measured from.
I spent half of last weekend sobbing inconsolably.
The other half, I spent yelling. My mom, my sister, we’re Italian. We yell. My dad used to interject in our shouting, “We’re the LOUD family!”
My parents’ Killington, Vermont, house has finally sold. The closing is just after July 4. There’s 2,430 square feet of stuff in that place.
We did a lot of the groundwork last year when it was first listed, but we left the attic, basement and garage still full of stuff to sell, trash, or donate.
“Inch by inch, it’s a cinch,” is the moving catchphrase of my grandmother, Mimi, who spent many years building, living in, and selling houses with Poppy.
So methodically, my sister and I shove my mom through parting with a lifetime of belongings, maybe not so nicely — but time is crunching, now.
And with the crunch comes not only loads of trash bags full of memories, but explosions and shouting, hugs, laughter, tears, and heavy waves of deep sorrow.
I took each of my three children into the bit of the forest that I called Katethysia. Told them about the tree I could walk up like a balance beam, and how I spent so much time up in that special tree.
Today, that tree is a rotting log. You can’t even walk on it or your sandaled feet squish into muck, and don’t ask me how I know and how old that makes me feel. I discovered a thin rope I crocheted, still wrapped around it like an ancient relic.
Katethysia later became the name of my made-up religion. This was a sacred place to me, and I broke down hard up there.
Before we had the offer on the house, I had scheduled a family shoot for that same weekend with my old schoolmate (and theatremate) Melina Coogan, who now operates Wild & Bright Photography out of Asheville, North Carolina. Yearly now, she comes to visit her parents in Vermont and offers some green mountain sessions. My God, did she get it. Her parents are moving, too. Our generation’s parents are downsizing and leaving us grieving, unanchored and adrift.
How do you say goodbye to the wooden post marked with your height? The bedroom where the ghosts of teenage angst are still visible under the paint? The kitchen table where you sat with your family night after night, playing Scrabble, doing homework, eating dinner? For this space not to exist seems unfathomable.
Eerier still, the house I lived in until I was five, just up Route 4 a ways, has completely disappeared, washed away in Hurricane Irene in 2011. I’ve brought my children there, and it’s just an empty space.
Knowing that my 1988 handprint is laid in the foundation of that Killington house, and that my full name is written numerous times in my old closet has grounded me with a sense of self-permanence. I know where I come from. There’s proof. It’s dizzying to lose the ability to check and make sure my memories were real.
July 4 will be our last hurrah in the house. We’ll celebrate the way we always did, watching the parade from the driveway, going to the Fireman’s Barbecue (us vegans basically just eat pickles), and the library book sale. We’ll walk River Road as a family and toast the house a farewell.
Maybe we’ll yell a little too, for old time’s sake.
This column appeared in the June 28 edition of the Glens Falls Chronicle.