This holiday season has been a little more exciting, stressful, chaotic, sleepless, and wonderful than any I can remember aside from the one when John and I were engaged and the four that welcomed our new babies to their first Christmases.
In early November, we took a ride to look at a house I had seen online. It seemed promising from the description: smaller yard, main floor laundry, an open floor plan, a direct route to our youngest child, her husband, and our youngest grandboys: an 8-year-old and his twin 3-year-old brothers.
For the first time in recent home searches, John and I walked around the construction site without saying a word. He climbed over gravel piles to take a look at the backyard that adjoins a farm; I noticed the owl perched high in a leafless tree a little way down the street.
There was no one in the sales trailer, but I wrote the number down and a few minutes later, sitting in the middle of a Mcdonald’s not far from where we’d been afraid to say anything for fear of breaking the silent spell we were both under, I spoke softly to a sales agent for the new subdivision and, in true form, started crying.
I knew. And so did John.
A few days later, we met with the agent, accompanied by a real estate friend who insisted on being with us because, as she laughed at me on the phone, “You haven’t bought a house in forty-five years. You don’t even know what questions to ask.” And Cathy was so very right.
Less than a week later, after several sleepless nights talking giddily about the realities of a new address at our stage of life and facing a brand-new future together with stars in our eyes as we had so many years ago, we signed papers to buy the home we’ve been waiting so long to find. There have been other possibilities over the years that disappointingly never worked out, but in hindsight would have been wrong for so many reasons.
The agent took a picture of us smiling at the camera and holding the SOLD sign that we would ceremoniously place on Plat 37 a week later when we saw the home for the second time, and it was ours.
There was a last Thanksgiving in this home that has sheltered us for 45 years, and the tears keep coming at the oddest moments.
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I hung the kids’ third-grade paper turkeys on the pantry door with scotch tape in the same places they’ve hung for over 30 years. There are marks from the tape that direct me to the exact places all four of the turkeys have been since the kids proudly brought their creations home.
These walls have enveloped us for their lifetimes, soaking up the laughter of birthday parties and baby showers, the quiet whispers of bedtime prayers and fever-breaking rocking chair supplications. There have been whoops of joy at college acceptance letters and tears of rejection when hearts were broken.
Our children have known no other basement stairs, no other backyard that hosted their Wiffle ball games and basketball challenges, no other strawberry patches to raid or perfect swimming pool locations to keep them out of the blazing summer sun.
We planted trees together in this yard, and John and I wondered if the grass would ever grow once the kids’ feet stopped running wildly through the yard. Of course, it did, and our nine grandchildren have all run in the same spots their parents did, bathed in the same bathtub their parents did, eaten at the same table, and laughed at the sixth-grade declarations of love penciled on the inside of Katie’s closet, and the chalk notes written inside the laundry room doorframe “Chris was here Dec 23, 1993;” “Home from college Thanksgiving 2004;” and “Guess Who? Easter 2010.”
And now it’s our last Christmas, in the middle of cleaning out 45 years of clutter and boxes and memories and life.
I wanted the tree up, but agreed to forgo the ornaments, picked just a few decorations to put on the mantel and the empty bookcases, knowing I can’t hang anything on the freshly painted walls of the home we will be showing to other families in just a few weeks, praying they will love this home as much as we did.
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And I’ve cried. For no reason and for every reason. At little things that are really big things, and big things that seem monumental.
Last night, I was searching for the four wooden house-shaped blocks that spell out NOEL to place them one last time on the mantel. I went through all the Christmas bins, sobbing at the fact that the kids’ first-grade ornaments wouldn’t be on the tree this year and I couldn’t hand the “All Hearts Come Home For Christmas” sign this year. The music box with the three twirling angels that my mother gave my sisters and me—“her three angels”—won’t be unboxed this year.
I couldn’t even find the block with the L on it to spell the word NOEL on the mantel.
I threw myself across the bed in frustration, reeling from sleepless nights and worrisome days, prospects of packing and shipping and rearranging and facing goodbyes and donating memories and finding my way in the middle of the night through new bedrooms, when John took me into his arms and held me as I sobbed, just as he has so many times over the years.
He whispered, “The L is on the mantel.” He had searched the bins and boxes until he found the letter that completed the NOEL. I
realized then that where he is will always be my home. It doesn’t matter where we are, as long as we’re together.
And there are so many memories waiting to be made 36 miles down the road.