We have new neighbors. They’re in our old house. It’s nice to see it looking lively again because I didn’t like looking across the street at an empty place, but it’s also a little sad. But also a little exciting. But also a little weird.
The closing went well. It takes a lot longer to sign so many papers when you have to add all of that extra power of attorney information to everything. There was a brief moment of bureaucratic panic when someone noticed Ian’s signature on the power of attorney form didn’t match the printed version in some way, and I thought that was insane since they let me take out a mortgage and buy a house with that signature, so was it really a problem to let me sell one now? But it all worked out.
The kids came along to the closing. Mona made a beautiful card to welcome the buyers to the neighborhood. Aden decorated the envelope, and Quinn helped me bake cookies for them. We made sure the new neighbors had our number in case they ever need anything, and I gave them a folder of all the manuals I could find for things in their new house, like the washer and dryer and the sump pump. The whole thing took over an hour, which got boring for everyone, but overall my kids were good. By the end when we were just waiting for our check I got them all playing hangman with me on a pad of post it notes and that kept them happy and not roaming the halls.
The only unusual element to the event was handing over the keys. I gave our new neighbors the two garage door openers and about a half dozen keys, and then I explained there was one more. Aden got her very own house key from her dad as a gift when she was seven. It’s attached to a large shoelace and even though she’s never used it, she loves it. When I told her the day before that we had to give the key to the new owners of the house her eyes filled with tears and she said, “But, it’s from my daddy.” So I let her bring it to the closing and I brought a mill file in my purse, and I told her if the buyers objected to her having a working key I would just file down one of the bumps on it so it wouldn’t work anymore. She didn’t want me mutilating her key, but she agreed it was better than having to give it up entirely. Of course the new neighbors not having hearts of stone said she could certainly keep her key from her deployed dad, and Aden promised she would keep it in a safe place. (I’m sure by next week they’ll have changed the locks anyway, but I think it was important to be honest.)
The night before the closing I went through the house alone. Ten years is a long time to live somewhere, and Ian and I worked so hard on that house. I thought about how big it was when it was just the two of us. It was still roomy when Aden came along. It was decidedly not roomy after we brought Mona home. And with five people and a violin making workshop it was officially cramped.
There are just two people there again, and I can easily imagine their excitement as they fill the house with all their things. We primed some rooms for them before we left so they can get right to painting as soon as they choose colors. I’m sure they’re already discussing what to change and what to keep. It’s a house with many possibilities–as long as you’re not cramped.
While I was walking around it one last time I looked in the upstairs hallway at the stripes I painted there with the leftover colors from the living and dining rooms. I thought about the crazy hundred year old wallpaper we uncovered while working on some of the walls downstairs. We tore down fake wood paneling and re-plastered walls and built baseboards and ran wood through my bench top bandsaw on the living room floor to make our windowsills. We were so young then, back in 2000, just after I graduated from violin making school, before deployments or children or health insurance.
I didn’t cry. I expected to cry as I walked around with my camera and took some photos to show to Ian how the house looked on the last day it was ours. But then as I was coming down the stairs I snapped one more picture while thinking about each of my babies learning to climb those steep steps, and the flash illuminated all the dirt in the carpeting. Every infant and toddler atrocity that happened to that carpet came flooding back and instead of feeling sentimental I thought “Eeeww” and was glad to get back to my new house where I’m blissfully ignorant of whatever horrors have happened on those floors before we got there.
The kids didn’t want to go in. Actually, Aden didn’t want to go in, and her siblings just tend to follow her lead. Aden walked around the old house once with me a couple of weeks ago when I was checking on some work being done, and she was disturbed by how it looked empty. She cried when we were standing in my old room (which was once her nursery) and said, “I can’t really remember it the way it was.” I know that pain. Not wanting to let go is not the same thing as not wanting to move ahead.
I sat on the porch steps before heading off with the kids to transfer ownership of the house to new people. I finished painting that porch alone in time for Ian to admire it when he returned from his first deployment. The view of our neighborhood is different from that side of the street.
It’s been fun watching the new people start unloading their stuff. It’s obvious they are happy, and I’m happy for them. As interesting as it is watching them moving in as we are moving on, it’s peculiar to be so close by. There is comfort in seeing our first house right outside our windows because the memories are nearer. We will never be surprised by driving past the old house and realizing we remembered it differently, because it’s right there. But it’s strange to see things happening to it and not have it be any of our business. I’ve unlatched the gate to the backyard a million times and now I’m not supposed to. I can’t pick the peonies when they bloom there in early June, but I’ll see them from my bedroom. The transition is incomplete somehow, even though it’s officially done, like breaking up with your roommate or giving your dog to the person next door. The ghosts of habits will linger for longer than they might if we had moved away from our neighborhood entirely. It will be awhile yet before the urge to turn left instead of right at our intersection fades from memory.
But it’s good and it’s right. This house is now home, and we create more family history here every day. Houses are like good violins in that we become chapters in their stories. We are merely caretakers of certain things in our own lifetime. I’m hoping the stories we make here with our lives will be passed down as neighborhood lore after we’re gone and it makes people smile. I know I’m smiling already.