In a couple of weeks, my grandmother's house will be sold, for cash, to a faceless and hopefully kind and responsible family. I'm taking my kids to Florida next week for one last visit, and to help my sister pack for their move to the beach. It's a good and happy ending: Kate graduated as a nurse anesthetist and landed a great job in Port Orange. Tons of reasons to celebrate, for sure.
And yet, I am swamped in sadness. As I grow older, the endings are piling up, and will inevitably continue to do so, but this has been my home for my entire 37 years. My mother's family moved there from Chicago in the early 70s, when my grandfather got a job in Central Florida; my mother quit college to follow her two younger, developmentally disabled brothers there. She soon met my father, had me, and not soon after, my grandfather died in the garage of a massive heart attack. A few years later, I spent the night there while Kate was being born; I remember that night so vividly, the anticipation and excitement, my uncles clamoring for news of the new baby. My grandmother's toast with strawberry jam, the sound of my parents' car pulling away en route to the hospital. My grandmother died there in 2004, and I brought Sydney home there in 2005, 2 days after she was born, during our Katrina evacuation. I remember one night, 2 or 3 weeks after her birth, sitting awake and alone with my restless baby, in my grandmother's old recliner, talking to her, beseeching her, feeling her presence so acutely. Like she was sitting there with me, chatting away the lonely midnight hours.
Being musically inclined, I tend to associate memories with sounds--and Florida sounds have a unique timbre. The sound of screen doors whistling and slamming in the breeze; the crickets congregating at night; splashes and shouts from the neighbor's pool; the eerie silence of a hot summer morning. I can still hear my grandmother's voice--she always sat in her recliner directly opposite the door to the living room and would call out my name when I walked in (always without knocking). My Uncle Jimmy's sweet mumbles, Uncle Jack's catcalls. The sound of the door shutting behind me.
I've been told to remember that it's just a house, that "home is where the heart is." But what if your heart resides in a physical place? What if that place--not just the house itself, but the neighborhood, the running trail, the high school, the entire landscape--is so deeply embedded in your memory and in your person that you can't imagine it belonging to someone else? What then?