Last summer after my grandma passed away, I had a conversation with my mom about whether or not it's a good idea to return to your childhood home after you've moved out and on with your life. "I know I never could because I knew it wouldn't be the same," she said, referring to a Redding, CT home she spent her childhood in. "It felt like a happy house," she said. "I hear they've added onto the house, and I think, no, I know, I don't want to see those changes. It would never be the same as I remember. Sometimes memories are better than reality."
I asked her this question because I was debating whether or not I could come back to my grandma's home after she had passed. At first I thought, Of course I'd return. Why wouldn't I? For years I envied friends who had never moved from the house in which they grew up. They could remember family holidays, learning to ride a bike, starting school and all the various milestones that come with life, all in the same house. I didn't realize until lately that, for me, that house was my grandma's.
Ever since I was born, my family moved every four years, or less. Twenty-three years old and 11 moves so far for me. Being uprooted became the usual, so I never had a chance to do much growing in any house. But while everything in my life was constantly changing (something I hated), my grandma's house was the one thing that never did. I could always count on it to look the way it did the last time I saw it, and that was comforting. It was a permanent in a world full of temporary.
Adapting to change is hard enough without it being during your college years. College is the time when you're supposed to be finding yourself, and while it's true that it played a part in my developing, my grandma had a huge part in creating me. The summers I spent with her were full of intelligent conversations, lessons in farm life, encouragement to be independent and self-sufficient and sheer love. It's only been nine months since she passed away, but it feels like it just happened. Recognizing that the last time I saw her will be the last time I ever see her still dawns on me every day as if I'm experiencing it all over again for the first time.
Now that her house is up for sale, the quiet, wide open space that was once a piece of paradise for a girl with a chaotic home life will soon be off limits. A stranger will move in with their things and begin a new chapter in their own life, in a house whose memories are now only visible to me. I never wondered what life would be like without access to that house. We all have that one place in the world where it's just easier to breathe. Our shoulders are relieved of a weight, and we can relax. Have you ever considered what your life would be like without that place?
When a property is on the market, all we see is a house and its price tag. We picture what our life would look like in it, the colors we would paint the inside or outside, how we would arrange our furniture, etc. What we don't think about is who used to live there. I've never really thought about it until now, but, in a way, houses are people too. They have personalities. Some are downtrodden, some have been taken care of like gems and some are in between. They all have their memories; they all have had their people. Families, individuals, babies who grew into adults; some houses even have a dog or a cat or a hamster buried in the backyard. A dried-up pond, an overgrown garden, faded penciled numbers on the inside of a doorway marking changes in height, hooks in the wall where pictures have hung and more. Tangible and intangible marks that say "someone lived here." These are what make a home. They go through numerous transformations and rebirths, starting over themselves.
When I see my grandma's house listed on property websites, it's difficult not to think the memories are going with it. It's difficult not to automatically be angry with the person who moves in, who will be clueless and careless about covering my memories with their own.
Asking my mom about returning to her childhood home meant asking myself if I could ever return to my grandma's house. At first I didn't hesitate. Pictures have never sufficed and it was always the physical parts of the house that provided comfort. If I couldn't see them, what would keep my memories alive?
Now, that conversation with my mom has sparked an internal debate. Do I dare go back and risk tainting my fragile memories by seeing how much has changed? My grandma touched the front door, opened and shut the windows, filled the glass wine jugs in the garden with water. Her mark is there. All I can hope is, if I do decide to go back, that whoever moves in is kind enough to let me in when I return to walk the property and relive those memories.