Sayonara House Party

Later today, after their final walkthrough, a couple from Wisconsin will be the proud new owners of Mom and Dad’s house. Finished in 1969, the house turns 50 this year — a good, solid number for a good, solid house. No wonder it sold in less than 24 hours.

Here’s the near-perfect description my realtor used to promote the house’s charm and nuance:

“This all brick home is as solid as they come. It has a taste of the country with city privileges. While this home is perfect and a convenient Des Moines NE location with nearly an acre of land it also boasts a quiet solitude that is nearly impossible to find. The yard is a gardener’s dream. It’s also not uncommon to see some wildlife roaming through the far reaches of the rear yard. The interior also has much to offer. A generous sized living room and dining room with a covered patio (with a view) on the upper level makes it perfect to host friends or family. The lower level has a family room, fireplace, and a walkout to a great patio with the built-in grill. There’s an extra kitchenette in the LL too. Homes on this street are rare to see for sale!”

(I couldn’t have written it better myself—save for one brief addendum: “Be good to this house. I mean it. It’s the only home I’ve ever known.”)

In my last act as a dutiful son, I spent the weekend tidying up a bunch of odds and ends. Closets and cabinets I painstakingly cleaned out suddenly had more junk in them. Coffee cups multiply like rabbits if you’re not careful. Bath towels, if left alone to their own devices, can suddenly replicate. And don’t even get me started with the tens of thousands of ballpoint pens that were discovered on the last day. So. Many. Pens. In. So. Many. Unexpected. Places.

Friday night, when I stumbled into town, I was determined to get a majority of stuff accomplished so I could enjoy the rest of my weekend in relative peace. The only thing I achieved was dehydration. I was crying before I even pulled in the driveway. By the time I walked in the garage, I was sobbing. I then proceeded to curl up on the stairwell in the fetal position until my catatonia passed. The house was now empty—nary one piece of furniture was left. It had a weird, echo-y quality that broke my heart in about fourteen million places. Eventually, I just called Friday a wash. Or wash-out. Whichever.

Saturday wasn’t much better, but at least I was functioning. I couldn’t take a half a step without being gobsmacked by a memory or two—or ten. Standing in the pantry, I remember the time The Bevinator barricaded herself inside because she thought she saw a dead mouse in the kitchen. (It was a balled-up sock. My bad.) When I opened a particular kitchen cupboard, I remembered that’s where my dad kept his stash of mixed nuts—a handful of which he’d wolf down with an adult beverage when he got home from John Deere each night.

My friends—sensing a cataclysmic breakdown looming on the horizon—threw one helluva Sayonara House House Party on Saturday night. My galpals get me. They know that good food and witty banter is always and forever my cure-all. And there was plenty of handholding too. I needed it. I kept wringing my hands like a fretting grandmother. My friend Mindy kindly let me crash at her place. It’s weird being homeless in your own hometown.

By Sunday, I was oddly cried out. (Uh, and a little high.) Melancholy was now rampant. It truly was the end of an era. I flung open all the windows and doors in one last ode to Mom. She was always big on “airing out the house.” I still don’t know what that means exactly, but I find myself randomly doing it at my home too. Casa Mackie always smelled fresh when you walked in—an unmistakable scent of gardenias or some weird floral arrangement I could never put my finger on. After Mom passed away five years ago, that scent quickly dissipated. I figured it was just her perfume. I haven’t smelled it since—until yesterday, that is. There it was wafting through every room—potent and polite at the same time. I breathed deep—like a hyperventilating, crazy person, not wanting that moment to end. How fitting, I thought—scents are such triggers. That will be my last memory walking out of the house for the last time. Good job, Mom. You’re still managing to calm my jangled nerves.

I’m gonna give it about a month and I’m going to write the new owners a letter and tell them how lucky they are to now own a place that was filled with 50 years of sheer love. And how happy I am that they get to enjoy it in all of its glory and splendor. And I how I want them to make their own delightful memories. But I’m still not telling them about Dad’s secret hidden compartment behind his bookcase though. Maybe they’ll find it on their own—with about 10,002 stashed ballpoint pens to enjoy.

6 thoughts on “Sayonara House Party

  1. God bless you and your pen. Your writing always touches me. Michael, I am so sorry for your pain. I know your heart is broken. Praying for your peace and comfort. I love you~Mel

  2. Ok, I’ll admit that your story has me spilling tears into my coffee this morning. I feel your pain. I have been in your shoes. It’s good that you celebrated your memories and I’m glad you had that last scent to remind you of your Mother. My Mother has been gone three years, my Dad almost 28. I can still smell Aqua Velva, a wool suit jacket and a faint whisper of Lucky Strike smoke when I think of my Dad coming home from work. The smell of Dove soap takes me right back to my Mother’s bathroom vanity. Cherish your memories and don’t be ashamed of the tears. I hope you smile when you see a random ball point pen.

  3. All you need to do is send them a link to this blog post. I felt the pain of every bittersweet keystroke. So many hugs for your broken heart. One day at a time. And whatever that was that got you through Sunday. 😉

  4. I went through this just over a year ago. Our parents had lived in our house for 50 years. It took my siblings (2) and me one whole year to go through the house. (Our dad hid money – coins – so we had to check every nook and cranny). We did a great job (I think) of taking care of getting their possessions to the right places (many of them to a dumpster that was in the driveway for a few weeks, some to friends and family, and lots to college-age grandchildren who will be grateful to have kitchen stuff when they are in their first apartments.)

    For me, saying goodbye to our house was like going through another death. No one prepared me for the grief I’ve felt since we sold that house. Yes, there is a wonderful family living in the house with three foster-to-adopt little boys and their parents making new memories, but there’s still that pang of guilt. Did I betray our parents by not buying the house myself? Is the new family taking care of it as good as we did? Do they realize that they are getting the best house ever built?

    I know exactly how you feel – and most people don’t. However, we are the lucky ones who lived our entire childhoods in one HOME. We are the lucky ones who were able to come HOME well into our adulthood to the same place where we grew up. We had a place of safety to escape to when the world was just too much. We are the lucky ones who were able to honor our parents by taking care of them when they needed us.

    You are blessed to have people in your life who will welcome you HOME now to Des Moines. Take extra special care of you and allow yourself to feel all the feels.

  5. You have such a beautiful spirit! How wonderful that you had such a loving relationship with your parents for as long as you have. Count yourself lucky to be loved- then and forever! You are not alone in the journey. Virtual Hugs to you.

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