This week the house I grew up in is going to be sold.
Over the last couple of weeks my parents and I have spent several days and evenings clearing things out of my Aunt Gertie’s house. She’s been in a seniors’ home for several months now and the house has been on the market.
Cleaning out her house hasn’t been as difficult as if it were, say, my house. Aunt Gertie was always throwing stuff out, sometimes more than you’d want her to. Clutter and junk were kept to a minimum: she once told my mother, “When I die, I don’t want anyone to say, ‘Look at all the old junk she kept’.” (What a great code to live by, by the way!) I can assure you I did not ONCE think that while going through her house.
But even a stripped-down life can accumulate quite a bit of stuff, if it’s been lived in the same house for over 60 years. The Ellis family moved to that house when my mom was about 10 years old. She spent her teen and young adult years there, living with Aunt Gertie after Aunt Gertie’s parents, my mom’s grandparents, passed away. When my parents got married 50 years ago this summer, they converted the upstairs into their tiny apartment, and when I was born they brought me home from the hospital to that same small apartment.
Eventually, with me on the scene, they needed another bedroom, and when I was seven my parents bought their own house and we moved out of Aunt Gertie’s house. But it was still “home” to me as it was across the street from my school and I went there every day after school and stayed with Aunt Gertie till my parents got off work, a pattern that continued until I went away for university. The little I know about the household arts, particularly baking, I learned in Aunt Gertie’s kitchen after school. Years later, when I moved back to St. John’s, I lived upstairs in Aunt Gertie’s house for a year while I worked on my M.A. That was where Jason and I started dating. Then we got married and bought the house next door, and we continued to run back and forth between our place and Aunt Gertie’s as the kids grew up. They enjoyed visiting the house with cable TV and forbidden snacks, and Aunt Gertie enjoyed spoiling them.
Even more than my parents’ house or the house Jason and I bought when we got married, Aunt Gertie’s house is the house that holds my memories. And now it’s empty. On Saturday night when almost everything was out, I walked about the empty house by myself, sitting down in different rooms, looking at the bare walls, the ancient carpet or flooring, the spaces where things used to be. I try hard not to get attached to physical objects and be sentimental about them, but I do get attached to places. It’s a very strange feeling when all the furniture, pictures, and physical objects are gone, and you’re left alone in a familiar space that now holds nothing but memories.