This was the first and last time that I would be traveling three thousand miles for a garage sale. My parents had finally sold our family home of thirty two years and wondered if, perhaps, we could come home and help them with the sale. It could not have been coincidence that each of us decided, quite on our own, to leave our spouses and children for the weekend to travel back home. It would be the last time we could sit together the way it started: two parents and six children in a four bedroom house in a pretty N.J. suburb.
I spent much of the day on the airplane wondering how I was going to feel when I walked into 26 Ardsley for the last time. Being the sentimental type, I feared the worst shedding my first tears as the plane touched down in Newark. I quickly reminded myself that I had sworn not to make this a weekend of “lasts”—The last time I fry an egg in this kitchen, the last time I daydream on this front porch. I wanted to approach this as the mature adult that I usually am, positive and strong to help my parents through this emotional transition as they prepared to retire in Phoenix.
When I drove into the driveway I was flooded with relief to realize that sadness was the furthest emotion from my mind. I greeted my parents and five brothers, shared a joyful meal around a wooden table worn smooth from years of dinners, homework and school projects, and then helped my parents price the various family treasures that were now being relegated to the sale. We laughed about some of the items, reminisced about others, and each of us ended up with a pile off to the side of those things that happened to tug too strongly on the old heartstrings. I mean, you couldn’t exactly let some stranger walk off with the infamous ice cream spoon that worked better than the scoop ever did. Surely my parents would have made a lot more money had we not come home to help.
The sale day dawned bright and clear. We manned our stations and the people began to trickle through. It was clear from the start that David and Kevin were the best salesmen while the rest of us practically pushed things into people’s arms just to get them out of the yard. At one point I needed more masking tape, and since I couldn’t boss my younger brothers around anymore, I ran into the house to get it myself.
That’s when I heard them. The voices that is.
The voices of children were coming in giggles and whispers from every room. Knowing that I was alone in the house, I shook my head and started up the stairs only to stop again momentarily and listen. Yes, the voices were unmistakable and I recognized every one. I heard them sitting around the dining room table dyeing Easter eggs, sorting Halloween candy on the living room floor, and gathered around a decorated fireplace guessing what treats might fill their stockings come morning.
Swallowing hard to push the lump from my throat, I took a deep breath and continued up to the second floor landing. Standing in the center of the hallway, I looked from door to door. As I half-feared, the voices overflowed from every bedroom. Not surprisingly, my brothers’ rooms were the noisiest. I was intrigued however, to find my room completely silent. Being the only girl I lucked out with a room of my own, so I guess it stood to reason that I did a lot more listening than talking when I was in there. As I took a step toward my room, I heard the backdoor slam and my older brother, Tim, wonder aloud about what had happened to me. Knowing the silence of my room would speak volumes to an already breaking heart, I happily turned and trotted back down the stairs, not caring that I had forgotten the reason I had come inside in the first place.
Laughter, old friends, and a little bit of work saw us through the rest of the day. We all agreed that the sale was a success and found comfort knowing that our childhood memories had found new homes.
Later that evening during a party that our neighbors were throwing for us, my brother, Todd, came over to me and announced that the camera needed a new battery. He suggested that I go home and get the spare. Being the good sister that I am I told him that he could probably handle that job all by himself. He quietly urged me, however, to go across the street and spend a few moments in the darkened house alone. He told me that he had just done that an hour before and the experience was unnerving. One look in his eyes told me that he had heard the voices, too.
Back I went to get the battery and to finish what I had started that morning. I let myself in the back door, walked reverently across a kitchen floor that held a million footprints, headed up the staircase and stood outside the door to my room. I turned the glass door knob that I always swore to my friends was a real diamond and stepped in. It had been redecorated years before, but it was still mine.
As I stood in the darkness, I had the strongest urge to lie down on the bed. After years of experimentation I knew that if you lay on your back in a specific angle and hung your head over the edge just so, you could get the most expansive view of the night sky that this room had to offer. This was an important piece of trivia to a seven-year-old on Christmas Eve. So, what the heck, I lowered myself onto the white bedspread, lay down and assumed the magic position. Pushing aside the curtain, I scanned the stars once more for a glimpse of that tiny sleigh. And for a moment my heart found peace. When I felt the blood rushing to my head I closed my eyes and thought to myself, ‘What is a thirty six year-old woman doing searching the sky for Santa Claus on a warm night in June?’ I sat up straight and let the tears run down my cheeks and onto the chenille that had collected them over the years.
Many thoughts passed through my mind in the following minutes, but only one has stayed with me and will continue to inspire me for years to come. I realized that after thirty some years what still came to life when I entered this house was the holiday magic. A sense of peace, joy, belonging, and shared excitement found expression through those annual traditions that our family held dear. These moments were the treasures. I would not miss the family knickknacks that I could hold in my hand. I would miss the moments that I held in my heart. Somehow I knew that when I left this house for the last time, I would not hear those giggling voices again.
There were other giggling voices that I would hear, though, in less than twenty four hours. Those, of course, would be the voices of my own two children now sleeping soundly a continent away. So I said a silent prayer as I slowly walked back to the party across the street. I thanked God for parents that understood what it took to build a home and fill the hearts of their children with priceless memories. I thanked Him for parents that took the time to watch us dye the perfect Easter egg, trim the perfect Christmas tree, and put together the scariest costume in the neighborhood. I told Him that I knew that it was my turn to pick up the wand and sprinkle the magic into the hearts of my own two precious babies. And, finally, I asked Him for the wisdom and patience to do it well.
I left the next morning, and when I drove down that tree-lined street for the last time, I did not look back. This chapter in my life was coming to an end, and, actually, it felt right. Sure, I would suffer pangs of homesickness now and then, but I knew that a piece of me would be revisiting that old house with the passing of every season. I now understood the depth and worth of tradition in our lives and I was anxious to get home and share these realizations with my husband. We have but a short window of time to shape and mold the traditions that will someday define our children’s childhood experience. It is an immeasurable responsibility to be sure, and our success will also be measured in the giggles and whispers that echo throughout our home for decades to come.
Dedicated to the Powers Family
In honor of Ralph Powers (1926-2009)