My grandparents left the home they lived in for 60 years today. They can no longer afford to live at home with the level of care they now require.
I don’t know how much of my life was spent in that house, probably well over a year if you added up all the holidays and family gatherings.
I can smell the house, I can see the bedrooms though I haven’t actually walked down the hall in many, many years. I remember trying to fall asleep in the front room to the red glow of the candle bulbs my grandmother put up at Christmas. I remember listening to Neil Diamond 8 tracks in the same room. I remember my cousin walking around the kitchen with the fantastically long, coiled phone cord trailing behind her (still the longest phone cord I’ve ever seen).
And now I’m thousands of miles away and someone is clearing out the house. Moving out the furniture, dividing up a few possessions among children and grandchildren and all I can think about is that I’ve never even taken a picture of the house.
I’d like to stand in the street one last time and look at the low, brick house, the curved curb and the perpetually dead lawn, to take a picture, not to remember it, I’ll never forget it anyway, but simply to have done it. To have taken the time to do it because I recognized it meant something to me; but I didn’t.
I’d like it to be evening when I take the picture, the sort of desert evening that is pure relief, when the sky sighs a light grey-blue glow at twilight and the temperature finally falls below a hundred. The dry air is still, the clouds silent in the distance, behind the mountains. I’d like to frame the photo on the left with the junipers that aren’t there any more, but were when I was younger. In the center I’d like to see the old brown Datsun truck (long since sold) that used to meet us in Utah, Arizona, Colorado to go camping for a week each spring. Zion National Park, Canyonlands, Arches, Natural Bridges, the wild southwest desert. The small brown truck with its white camper shell, tent and stove tucked in the back, fishing poles in long tubes hanging from the roof inside the shell, the silver washpan my grandfather poured scalding water into every morning to shave, a little mirror hanging from the camper shell hinge. My grandparents slept in cots in a tent. They were well into their sixties by then.
I’d like to get Pepper in the picture. I only saw him a few weeks of the year, but he was the closest thing I ever had to a dog when I was young. And perhaps Honcho, the ornery cat I never really liked, but he was tough and I always respected him.
I can see this image in my mind, see it quite clearly, but I’ll never be able to take it. It’s just a house, a structure made of brick and wood. Nothing more. Everything else is your mind, where you can keep it forever. I’m not sure if I keep saying that to myself because I believe it or because I want to. It’s true either way. Everything else is in your mind. Even if you didn’t think to remember it until the memories were all you had.
Image adapted from Dusk by Kevin Dooley, Flickr