A couple of months ago, my mother-in-law moved into an assisted-living facility. The home she lived in for 47 years, the house that my husband lived in from the time he was born until after he graduated from college, needs to be sold. So a few weeks ago, my husband and his brother began cleaning the house out, keeping a few boxes of sentimental things such as photographs, but mostly packing everything else up to be donated or dumped.
They spent a weekend sorting through piles of papers, emptying out drawers and closets and cupboards. They came across old toys, school papers, Christmas ornaments made in elementary school, a wedding album. The old house is filled with memories – some happy, some painful, some sad – memories stretching back across my husband's lifetime.
My first visit to that house was in 1978, when my husband and I began dating. So I have memories from the last 28 years, especially the holidays when our children were little. On Christmas Eve, we used to go with my in-laws to Midnight Mass and then return to the quiet house to open presents. Many Sunday afternoons, we stopped to visit my husband's parents so they would have a chance to see their grandchildren. We'd sit around the kitchen table and my mother-in-law would pour cups of soda.
My father-in-law has been dead for nine years, but I well remember the time he and I were put in charge of taping a soap opera for my sister-in-law when she was at work. They didn't have a VCR – this was more than twenty years ago – so we were using a cassette tape. We decided that she was missing the visual element and took it upon ourselves to describe what we saw on the screen. "Oh, that was a SIGNIFICANT glance, don't you think?" Neither of us could resist mocking everything we saw. We amused ourselves so much with our witty descriptions that the tape was filled mostly with laughter. I recall that my sister-in-law was not particularly amused.
The house is quiet now. The marks on the ceiling where the Christmas tree always stood will be painted over. The bedroom my husband shared with his brother is empty. The dents on the living room carpet show where the furniture used to be -- the couch, the chair in the corner, and the television stand. The flower garden that my father-in-law tended so carefully has long since become a bed of weeds, and the backyard where the kids once played whiffle ball is now just a mown lawn of green.
The house is bare. The closets, the cupboards, even the entire basement.