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My parents planned out their retirement methodically, much like Josef Stalin, with their own five-year plan. The did it the way the television commercials say you’re supposed to go about it. Mom went first in August of last year. Dad retired at the first of this summer. Now they've been hard at work fixing twenty-five years of repairs that had been pushed off for this very moment.

This is a momentous occasion for both of them, but their responses have been more muted than I expected. I suppose if you've worked for fifty years or so, the combined labor has a way of making you tired and footsore. The end for both was not an exuberant sprint, but a weary and obliging trot across the finish line. They deserve to live out the rest of their days in relatively calm, even though having reached this stage in their lives reminds me once more that life is finite. The ultimate biological machine, at least so far as we know, is the human body. It tends to wear out after a while.  

I want to keep my focus upon them, not myself, but I admit I’m having some serious reservations. Much of my life is tied up in that house and the city in which it is located. My folks will be leaving both behind, retiring to the beach, as so many retired couples do. If I peer out of the front door, my attention focuses briefly, inevitably on the bus stop where I waited for middle school and half of high school. We waited by a storm drain, every morning, at the spot where the concrete met the asphalt of the road.

My bedroom had many configurations, much like an art gallery, one of which showcased a large CD player against one corner. It blared the music of the time, and my latest album purchase. Every inch of the walls, in those days, was covered by store-bought posters of musicians and movie stars. After I left for parts elsewhere, I remember how sparse and bare it seemed when it all had been taken down. My sister moved home for a while, taking my room for herself, scattering clothes across the carpeted floor. She owned several vinyl LPs and a decent player, though her purchases always came from thrift stores and garage sales.

From recent conversation with my parents, I’ve gathered that their fondness for the house is not my own. My father felt that it was too expensive to maintain. He criticized the workmen who built the house, feeling they rushed through the job. But I have to be pragmatic in my nostalgia. Being that two people now inhabit a space designed for five, it is clearly more house than they need. Moreover, it seems that my folks don’t have the same strong sense of ambivalence that I have.

My mother’s childhood home has been visited probably once in twenty years. Her father died after a severe bout of cancer, and the home reminds her of those awful final months and days. After my aunt died, Dad never had much reason to visit his parent's house, either. He might have even been ashamed of it, showing, as it did, the extreme poverty of two career textile mill workers, his own parents, who never passed 9th grade. Dad got out at 17 and never looked back. We regularly visited when my sisters and I were small children, but conditions on the ground changed.

Childhood is difficult regardless of circumstance, but I was an imaginative child. I could escape into my books and later play my guitar with a single-minded focus. As I walk through the house in my mind, I recall a million tiny confrontations and words exchanged. Every corner has a memory, even with a fresh coat of paint or an elaborately re-designed sundeck. I remember my grandmother, an unfiltered cigarette smoker, staking claim to one corner. I remember, years later, her being shocked when I picked the opposite corner to light my own cigarette.

The driveway and basement became a service station to many a car. I knew nothing of automobile repair. Dad would patch together the once-dead until I created a new problem for him to fix. On my teenage trips to Atlanta, two and a half hours away, he would make sure my turn signals were functioning properly and my windshield was clean. He didn't have to do it, and I know many parents would not. Though we've had our differences, I recognize the gesture was one of love, and I am finally willing to take it on its own terms.

The notion of shrines and monuments has never been foreign to me. Some people stare at them uncomprehendingly, briefly. They move on to the next, displaying the same reaction. To me, at least, the house is a monument to lots of things. It was where I first kissed a girl. Until they got run down, both of my father’s parents were present, housed in a basement apartment we had specially built for them. It was, outside by the mailbox, where my rebellious sister sneaked away late at night, arriving at school the next day sleep deprived.

A surprise blizzard in Birmingham dumped 18 inches on an incredulous, uncomprehending public. After the ominous green lightning subsided, around 5 am, I walked out into snow that reached my kneecaps. The scene was pristine, as no one else had yet woken up and sullied the landscape. That image has been seared into my brain, one I know to be uniquely my own.          

It will probably be easier than I’m anticipating. Though I’m usually not much of a sentimentalist, here my secret romantic side shines through. Unlike my parents, I will make a silent pilgrimage to the house from time to time, if only to see what the new owners have changed. Much of me exists at that house and I measure my progress using it as a thermometer. I much don’t like the notion of my folks passing away someday, but I know they will. Maybe this can be my own silent ritual, to preserve the memories for myself and my younger relatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (28+ / 0-)

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 10:14:06 AM PDT

  •  Beautiful meditation (10+ / 0-)

    on change and our ties to sacred spaces in our lives.

      Thanks and here's wishing a long and comfortable retirement for your folks.

    Only the cool die young ~ R.I.P. my Stevie an Turcotte

    by Dvalkure on Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 10:31:47 AM PDT

  •  Give a listen to this.... (6+ / 0-)

    Con los pobres de la tierra, Quiero yo mi suerte echar

    by mojave mike on Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 11:30:18 AM PDT

    •  Very good! (4+ / 0-)

      And extremely appropriate.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 11:40:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Lyrics for the video/audio limited (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marykk, thomask
      Goodbye Momma, goodbye to you too Pa
      Little sister, you'll have to wait a while to come along
      Goodybye to this house and all it's memories
      We just got too old to say we're wrong

      Got to make one last trip to my bedroom
      Guess I'll have to leave some stuff behind
      It's funny how the same old crooked pictures
      Just don't seem the same to me tonight

      There ain't no use in shedding lonely tears Mamma
      There ain't no use in shouting at me Pa
      I can't live no longer with your fears Mamma
      I love you but that hasn't helped at all

      Each of us must do the things that matter
      All of us must see what we can see
      It was long ago, you must remember
      You were once as young and scared as me

      I don't know how hard it is yet Mamma
      When you realize you're growing old
      I know how hard is not to be younger
      I know you've tried to keep me from the cold

      Thanks for all you done, it may sound hollow
      Thank you for the good times that we've known
      But I must find my own road, now to follow
      You will all be welcome in my home

      Got my suitcase, I must go now
      I don't mind about the things you said
      I'm sorry Mom, I don't know where I'm going
      Remember little sister ,look ahead

      Tomorrow I'll be in some other sunrise
      Maybe I'll have someone at my side
      Mamma, give your love back to your husband
      Father, you've have taught me well, goodbye
      Goodbye Mamma, goodbye to you too Pa

      “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

      by Catte Nappe on Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 01:53:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  That house? It's just a structure. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, marykk, cabaretic, Aunt Pat

    Your home? That's where your parents are.

    They made that structure a home. You will always have fond memories of the place, but your heart? That will be wherever your parents go.

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 11:58:47 AM PDT

  •  There's something about our childhood home(s) (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marykk, cabaretic

    My father's family moved a lot growing up; and there have been many a "drive down memory lane" when opportunity arose to drive past where they lived at one time or another. Sometimes the building is still there, sometimes not; but the stories are always equally rich. "See that tree at the back of the property? We used to...."; "That's where we lived the time when Dad came home and caught Dave and I..."; "That's the house where Liddy was born. Ed, do you remember what you said when Mom came home from the hospital with her?" And the stories flow even when we aren't in the place where they happened. But never have there been efforts to visit, or substantial reminiscence, about places my parents lived after they married and started their family.

    And we moved a lot, too. My brother has been in towns we lived in when he was a child and made the effort to go see one or another "old place". I've not been physically in the towns of my childhood, but I've satisfied curiosity via Google. I have been several times back in the town where my married life started, and not once made the effort to go "see" our first apartment.

    There's something about our childhood homes.

    “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

    by Catte Nappe on Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 01:50:28 PM PDT

    •  I agree (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe, ladybug53, marykk

      I wonder if I'll come back to my parents' house and knock on the front door. If the owners are there, I'd ask if I could see the house again. If they didn't agree, it wouldn't be all bad. I could still see the outside and the backyard.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 01:54:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It is a time of transition for you all. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marykk

    I get it.  It is sad to leave your past life but It is time to create your own life.  Time to make your dreams come true or at least make a stab at it.  Good luck.  Parents that look after themselves and leave you free to do the same are a gift.
    Good luck.

  •  Better they move now on their own terms. I can ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cabaretic

    Better they move now on their own terms. I can assure you it's much sadder when you have to intervene and move them out for their own safety. And you can go back any time you like - just shut your eyes and remember.

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