There’s something about hearing that your parents’ house has been torn down that drives home the finality of their passing. Dad’s been gone for fifteen years, Mom for seven. An era of my time has vanished, too, held only in my memories, some of which make me cringe but many which warm my heart.
My Parents’ Dream Property
The “Farm,” as they called it, wasn’t my childhood home. It was the first home they bought, several years after I had been married, and my daughter wasn’t yet walking. With my grandfather’s passing, they’d been free to move on to a place of their own, no longer needing to care for him and his house, which was where I was raised.
The property had a few dilapidated buildings–a barn on top of the hill, the original farmstead house with an adjacent smaller workshop and barn, and a horse barn behind the main house. The man who had owned the property prior to my parents converted a barn into his house, and my parents kept most of that structure in tack–right down to the hay loft door, which led to a bedroom that my sister and later my daughter used while living there. It was the room I stayed in when I visited after leaving the area. The addition to the house became the living room and their bedroom.
My mother wasn’t much for showing her emotions, but I could tell by the smile and the twinkle in her eyes that this was something she had longed for. I’m not sure how Dad really felt about the place initially, but after they had moved in, the Farm became a spot for gathering as my siblings and I, along with my then-husband, pitched in to clear brush and debris from the property.
Erin, my sister, got her horse, and my husband and I planted a huge garden where my sister’s horse almost trampled my daughter, who was sitting in the middle of the garden. Shiloh frequently was set free without concern for what his wild ramblings might do to those around him. He also savored the taste of car paint, much to the chagrin of my grandmother, whose station wagon he first tasted.
The Big Catch
There were two ponds on the property; we swam in both, even the one with the snapping turtle in residence. Ice skating and sleigh riding down the hill next to the house were winter activities. We also fished in the big pond, a short walk from the house, through the continually groomed pathways through the old apple orchard. It was at that pond that my father took my son fishing while I was off on errands. I came back to my father, chuckling when I asked if anyone caught fish.
My father held up a lure and said, “Keep this for Petey B. It will remind him of his big catch.” Apparently, on a back cast, Pete snagged my father in the chest with the treble hook.
That explains everything!
Dawn, a friend since sixth grade, texted me several days ago that my parents’ house had been torn down. She warned me it was coming when we spoke a week or so earlier; only then I didn’t know of the timing.
During the week that the work was being done, I was having nightmares, all in that home and all with my parents’ presence. At one point, I saw my father’s face, very round and painted white. He looked at me with a shocked, helpless expression as if he was asking for assistance. In the dreams, I was packing dusty old knick-knacks, reminiscent of what my sister and I were doing when my mother was in decline, and we were preparing to move her to my sister’s house, several hours from the Farm.
Darkness followed me through that week, and I didn’t know why. My life was good. I didn’t lack for clients, and new business was coming in weekly. My relationship, the first committed one in over a dozen years, was everything I’d hoped for. I had a man who truly cared for me, who saw me for who I am, and whom I could trust with my heart, my soul, and my family.
The Demons Unleashed
As the foundation of my parents’ dreams was being torn down, the demons were being released.
My relationship with my parents was often fraught with tension, particularly with my mother. I believe I reminded her of everything she hadn’t done in her life. I was the writer. I left two marriages that were not healthy for me, and I traveled. I escaped the shrouded comfort of the small town in Upstate New York that she clung to like a well-worn teddy bear. I sought adventure. I took risks. During the dispersion of their possessions, after my mother passed, my sister told me Mom didn’t want me to have a certain piece of furniture because I moved around so much.
Mom was also a hoarder. I am not. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. I release things that weigh me down–possessions, people, places. As I write this, I own three pieces of furniture–and they’re not even with me. I’ve left them at my girlfriend’s Airbnb, the place I made my temporary home, waiting to see what place called to me. I was living in Colorado until Covid hit, and then I returned to San Diego to be close to my children.
In that little cocoon, as I called it, I even left most of my kitchen, save a few special pieces that I bought in Taiwan many years ago. I’d culled my books down to only those that I knew I either hadn’t read or would use again for research. Admittedly, for years, my books were my prized possessions and also the items that were the most difficult to move.
Make Way for Healing
Later in the week, my sister texted, sharing the news. We hadn’t had much contact in a while. The dissolution of the estate brought tension between us, as it does most families, and something I never thought we’d experience. But we did. She holds many of my mother’s opinions about me, and so I’ve learned to keep my distance. I’m kind, and I wish her well, but there’s not much we have in common other than our parents. She also asked about some pictures which I didn’t have.
With that text, I knew I needed to tell my children that one of their favorite playing grounds was gone. They needed to know and experience their own emotions about the passing of an era. I expected sadness. My daughter’s remark was, “I hope they build something amazing.” I worried about her reaction most of all because she cherished that property and had visions of it being her own one day.
That evening, as I shared the day with Reggie, more tears came to the surface. Another round of grief. Sadness at seeing the dreams of my parents destroyed. He reached over and held me, and as I pressed my cheek against his chest, memories bubbled to the surface. Family dinners at the Farm. My son and nephew took apart a tractor at one of those events. Sleigh riding, ice skating, and more. Good times. Warm memories. Those can’t be destroyed.
As for my sister. I called her the following day. I braced myself for more of the same. But what I expected did not come to pass. We had such a good conversation. I told her of my dreams. She asked about photos–which I explained I didn’t have. Together, we cursed our mother for destroying what mattered to us most–memories of my father’s family and our trips to Indiana. Even the pictures of Dad in the Air Force had gone missing.
But then our conversation moved on, and we reminisced about the good times. Laughter graced us. She spoke of plans of finally selling their farm and moving closer to my brother–and of studying to be an equine massage therapist. There was peace and contentment in her voice, something I’d never heard. I am so grateful. I feel as if I have my sister back.
Perhaps, stewardship of our parents’ dreams has been handed back to them. And maybe now, we’re free to build our own.