I grew up in one house for pretty much most of my childhood.
When I was about 4 years old, my family bought a piece of property in CT consisting of a one-bedroom cottage and a lot of trees. Tucked into the corner of a small state park, wild violets would blanket the small yard in the summer and I recall my older sister Jessica once dragging me up the steep driveway after school one snowy day on a sled. We lived in that cottage – my parents, my three siblings, our two dogs and I – while my dad built on that land what would be our home.
For years trees fell, foundation was poured, sheetrock went up. My younger days were spent climbing up and down piles of various rocks, dirt and gravel with our neighbors; over a dozen of us around the same age would ramble between our houses, connected by paths through the woods and across our small suburban street. We would pretend we that we were Indians (nowadays we would politically-correctly say we were playing we were Native Americans),building sets of dishes out of bits of slate and wood, barefoot in the yard while rain poured down, trying to be at one with nature.
In the house that would become our home we picked our bedrooms, painted them the colors we wanted, each connectedto a sibling by a shared bathroom. We picked out spots at the kitchen table in the now huge kitchen. My parents bought a baby grand piano for the music room, and we would practice while sound echoed throughout the space etched out by high ceilings and open doorways. My sister would later get her PhD in music, and the sound of various instruments would be our soundtrack over the years.
In the house that was our home we held Sweet 16s, several weddings (though none for my siblings and I – us girls will always remember the dream of walking down the winding center staircase in white) baby showers (one only months ago for my best childhood friend, who is now the mother to a beautiful baby girl), around 15 years of fancy New Years Eve parties that welcomed often over a hundred people, clambakes, post-prom parties, and closing night bashes of casts from high school shows through when I was producing professionally as an adult.
My father’s mother spent her last years and last days in a bedroom off of the kitchen, and where my father rebuilt the guest bathroom with handicapped access for her. I can’t count how many cousins and friends lived with us over the years. My parents we never the kind to turn away someone without a home.
I’ve spent every holiday of my life but one in that house at some point throughout the day. I’ve picked dozens of daffodils, my favorite flower, from the hundreds upon hundreds my parents planted in the now open yards. When I’ve been very, very sick with my Lyme disease, I wandered the gardens slowly and sat in the shade, letting the peaceful energy of the house just hold me while I waited to heal.
The house grew over the years, and seemed to ebb and flow with people and sentimental items. When my mom moved out a few years ago the dynamic changed and my family shifted a bit. But my father and two sisters were still there, and other family members came and went, and my brother still worked in the office every day. So whenever I came home chances were we’d all still be together, even if in between transit to somewhere else.
My sisters recently moved out – both in the same week – and today is the first time I’ve been back to feel the absence. My dad is gone for the weekend, my brother taking a much-deserved day off, my mother (who now lives a mile away) is on the other coast, and a man who works for my father and lives here a few months of the year just left for the airport to fly back to Poland for the winter. Now, at this moment, I’m home to work in the office a bit. When I got here I put on the kettle and grabbed a tea bag from my stash in the pantry. I poured hot water over it into the yellow British teapot that I bought to leave here. The house is quiet. Too quiet. And I start to roam.
I walk through Lil Sis’ empty in-law apartment. To the library where Jess taught private flute lessons. Up to my room and through our shared bathroom, which is now empty and set up with guest towels and packaged toothbrushes. Through to her room, which echoes. Mitra pads along behind me, and I set her food and water down where I set Rusty’s before her, and Heidi’s before his. We walk outside and I look up at a tall pine tree, now 30 feet high, and remember when my dad planted it for Lil Sis after one Christmas, where she had decorated it at 2 feet tall, its roots nestled into a wrapped paper tub. Back inside, I sing while washing my teapot out, and the space feels wrong. I look past the kitchen table through the dining room and into the now-empty library. I feel my grandmother not being in the guest room off the kitchen, where she had been every single day until a few years ago. The kitchen where I’ve made countless gluten-free pies and cookies, and prepared meals for my family, is practically bare. I was told to lock up all the doors around the house, and its large emptiness seems, more and more… less like my home.
When did life speed up so fast?
Earl Gray Tea
Place one tea bag in a large mug or pot. Pour just-boiling water over it. Steep for 3-5 minutes to desired strength.
Sip while breathing deeply, giving thanks, being present, and letting go.