We can hang our hats at mom's new place, but where will we hang our memories?


August 07, 1994|By Patricia Raybon

She is stubborn, but she is right. She is my mother. She knows she will win. "I am going to sell my house," she announces, and my heart skips a beat. "I want a new place, something with skylights and those cathedral ceilings." And a microwave oven.

"Does this come with a microwave?" she asks the salesperson at every model home we visit.

Then she takes careful notes and looks at her map. The new

place can't be too far from old friends or too close to old memories.

It must be the right place, in the right place, and my mother -- who is 78 -- is determined to find it. But this isn't a fairy tale. This is life.

There is rumbling.

"She wants to move?" my daughters ask in unison. "Sell her house?"

"She's moving?" My nephew writes a letter of protest. ("Dear Grandma: I have been thinking about you moving on to another house. I would like you to stay in the same house you are living in . . .")

My husband is on her side, but even he can tick off the objections. Age, hassle, cost, tradition. My daughters, reared in a world where families often split and best friends rarely stay, agree on every point.

I listen to their complaints. But I know what they are thinking, because I am thinking it, too.

If my mother leaves the family home, what happens to the family? Where do we gather? Where do we celebrate? Where do we laugh? Where do we hide?

This house, after all, is our stomping ground. Our praying ground. Our holy ground. A singular piece of earth that signifies to the world that we came, we mattered and, while we were here, we were connected to each other.

And it's hard to give that up. It takes a lifetime to build a house with a squeaky screen door: A lot of people have to go in and out to make that sound.

But my mother is brave. She is packing boxes.

"Look at this," she says, showing off her efficiency -- two rows of memories crated and labeled and ready for tomorrow.

Some things won't fit, of course. The wallpaper my father hung. The basement he finished. The trees he planted. And his presence. If the dead watch over us, he is here -- a solid, benign essence. Smiling from his photos. Giving my mother the go-ahead.

She knows what she is giving up. Thirty years ago, they moved to this house because they fought for it. There was some ugliness with the real estate people. Black families weren't welcome. At one point my father sent a white friend to secure their lot, but when the buyers -- my parents -- walked into the office, the real estate company suddenly had nothing available.

Lawyers were called. The nastiness passed. My parents bought the lot and built the house and paid the mortgage. And year later when my father saw the developer at a meeting, the man apologized. "I was wrong. There were no problems. I guess it worked out."

It did. The white neighbors didn't flee. In fact, they now are asking the question: "You're moving? But why?" My mother struggles to explain. In the end, it comes to this:

She wants skylights and a soaring cathedral ceiling over her graying head. She wants new carpet on the floors. She wants new pipes and new walls and a patio that isn't chipped. She wants a new kitchen. And a microwave oven. She thinks 78 isn't too old to start something new, to leave the past -- because the future belongs to her, too.

She wants a new house. It's OK to move on. She can say that because she has faith. She knows when we visit the new place and turn the key she'll come to the door and we'll walk in. And then? We'll all be there.

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