May 17, 1991|By JACK L. LEVIN

We had known for two years the date that we would be moving. For over one year we put it out of mind, like a visit to the dentist. Then we began some serious procrastinating. Finally, with about a month to go, we confronted the inevitable.

We had to start dismantling our lives, clearing out the treasured trivia of over 40 years in our home, the priceless, useless bric-a-brac that could not be shoehorned into our new smaller apartment. Among the flotsam and jetsam that had to go were:

Stacks of my father's love letters courting my mother when he was in the Navy from 1906 to 1910, with all the formal and flowery sentimentalities; boxes of photographs and slides of long-gone relatives, pets and friends celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and other joyous events; an uncle's white steel air-raid warden's helmet from World War II; tons of records and games no longer played, books no longer read, Little League baseball, football and camping paraphernalia no longer used, booze no longer drunk; a workbench vise and tools, many inherited; a barbecue grill and Damariscotta, Maine, lobster can from half-forgotten cookouts and feasts.

There are the stately tulip poplars in whose shade you read and dozed away many a lazy Sunday afternoon, and the evergreen tree you planted as a tiny sapling nearly 40 years ago that now towers above the roof-top, the bushes and shrubs you nurtured, the lawn you mowed on hundreds of hot weekends with gallons of sweat and pride. You are swept up in a flood of fond memories.

It does not help much when friends call to say they've heard wonderful things about the life-care facility you'll be moving into, and how much you'll to enjoy the easier life, making new friends, sharing new experiences, finding new listeners to oft-told tales. It only sharpens the sense of loss of dear old neighbors, routines, associations. You begin to feel kindly even to the cats and dogs for whom your grounds have been a favorite comfort station.

Moving day approaches. As you cram and lug boxes and bags, as you rip up the years, mournfully deciding what to keep, to dump, to give away and to whom, you realize that moving is the only thing more painful for a woman than delivering a baby or, for a man, than passing a jagged kidney stone. At least those sufferings are followed by immediate relief and joy; moving is followed only by the anguish of unpacking, of squeezing far too much into far too little space, of trying to find a familiar item in some unfamiliar haystack.

Like death and taxes, moving day arrives. The movers take over. They are miracles of efficiency, courtesy and professionalism, gliding from room to room, packing the unpackable, lifting the immovable, creating cardboard crates by magic, making everything disappear into the massive maw of the moving van.

After hours that seem like days, the house is empty, a desert where everything once bloomed. Desolation deepens as you drive down your street for probably the last time, following the van and waving final goodbyes to lost neighbors.

At the new apartment, in the chaos of unpacking, you have a recurring fantasy that you'll wake up soon and find yourself home. But you are home -- for the first time in an apartment, sharing a common roof that is not your own, on grounds you don't tend, eating food you did not prepare. In this partly collective life-care community, you will be pampered with amenities, attentions and gourmet dining. You will be free of all the problems and chores of home ownership and home cooking that you complained about and already miss.

You will also miss driving the old route to and from the office, turning into the old streets and shortcuts, seeing the old faces at stores, bank and service stations. You will have to register to vote in the county election and will miss the local candidates you've supported in the city where you were born. One bleak comfort is knowing that this is your very last move for which you'll have to pack and unpack.

But then, in the dining room, you meet childhood friends you haven't seen for decades, friends of even longer standing than those you've just lost. You are refreshed by an excellent dinner and the recapture of youthful days of wine, roses, Easterwood Park and Ballow's Delicatessen.

For every ending, there is a beginning; there is a time to die and a time to be born. As stated in Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3: ''The hour of death is like the hour of birth.'' . . . And vice versa.

Jack L. Levin is a Baltimore business man.

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