In 1976 my parents bought a house together. It was where they lived when I was brought home from the hospital. It was where they lived when the marriage ended. And then when I was four I remember my sister and I helping with the move by filling up our red wagon and pulling it around the corner and three houses down.
My Mom kept us in the neighbourhood, walking distance to where my dad was now living.
She tells me that she fell in love with the house as soon as she saw it, and my Dad did too. He kept on loving that house for 39 years. In fact, he died almost 39 years to the day that they moved in.
Even after we moved around the corner that house was always available to us. As we got older, even when my Dad wasn’t at home, it was our clubhouse. We played in the backyard and the garage, the basement, and finally the attic, where the damage that we did as children was still visible when we went to clean out the house – even though the attic had become my father’s office.
(We wrote on the walls, peeled off wallpaper – but not all the wallpaper because it was hard, and some of the paint because of the wallpaper).
That house hosted us for years of Boxing Day dinners, Thanksgivings, sometimes Easters and lots of get-togethers just because one of my older siblings was in town.
That house hosted the rehearsal dinner for my wedding – an October day so warm that we all sat out on the back deck. My brother-in-law barbecued and Dad’s partner made my favourite dessert and I was glad to have them involved in the day.
The day after my daughter was born we stopped by to see my Dad and sat in his living room – an odd, elongated room that fit our large family quite nicely. We were talking and Dad said, and I’ll never forget: “Do I get to hold my new granddaughter?”
Last Halloween Joe was out of town and after trying to figure out trick-or-treating and what to do with her I asked Dad if we could go over there, visit and take her out. Halloween was one of his favourite days. He used to count the number of kids he got at his door. I think he just loved talking to all his neighbours.
The kid had a great time hanging out at the door with Grandpa Joe and handing out candy, my Mom came with us and chatted with Dad’s partner, even my sister came with us trick-or-treating in the old neighbourhood.
The day after we all got the news that Dad had died his five kids met at the house – the only place we regularly saw each other – and started to clean it out.
I will never forget that week. It was hard – physically and emotionally. But the it was so much better grieving all together. It was therapeutic.
None of us had an easy relationship with Dad, I don’t think, but we are all who we are at least partly because of him.
Soon the house won’t be ours any more. It’s been conditionally sold. It will be the first time in my life that there’s no place to be in that neighbourhood. That I won’t have that house to just go to. I can’t drop in any more. I can’t hang out on the porch and watch the world go by while I talk to my Dad and ask him for advice.
I went to pick some things up the other day and it occurred to me while I was there that the house is going to be gone. Changed. Someone else’s. It hit me a lot harder than I thought. It’s been a place in my life. A hub. It’s not just a house.