What a story they would tell! From extreme joy to the depths of despair, the walls of 12200 Dark Star Court have seen it all. But, I highly doubt the walls of Dark Star Court witnessed any more of a swing of emotions than many other walls as they eavesdropped on their occupants.
When the moment of separation from the foundation that housed my family’s history over the course of forty years finally arrived, it was hard to believe I was still standing. I expected to wail. I didn’t. The certainty that I could not put one foot in front of the other to walk away was so real in my imagination. In reality, I could. A ritual helped make it possible; a plan of how and when I would say good-bye. One that needed to be rehearsed utilizing a visual that was powerfully vivid in order for me to rest in the comfort of knowing that when that day arrived I could actually walk away.
The day before moving day was filled with getting ready for the movers. Sleep was hardly an option. Adrenalin was the order of the day. By the time the movers arrived, I was too exhausted to think about the final goodbye. It was incredibly busy from beginning to end. And I am certain that if Lisa Bradford didn’t visit me the night before to add reality to my world and if Jerry and Petie Hebenstreit didn’t arrive in the AM to not only offer me a temporary home for the things that were eventually going to Wintergreen but also to move them for me and if my guardian angel, Deb Gorham, didn’t show up in a pickup truck and ask these priceless questions:
- What has to go to the dump?
- What has to go to a donation center?
- Where is the big stuff you need to get to Wintergreen?.
and if Rick Morrow didn’t come by to look at the renovations I had made in my house and ended up helping Deb load her pickup truck, I am sure that I would have never been able to accomplish all that needed to be done.
If you ever doubted God’s providence, you shouldn’t. He sends people to help you in exactly the way you need help the most. He paves the way for things to go as you need them to. Maybe not always. Maybe only Sometimes. Leaving my home without being crushed under the weight of sorrow was one of those “sometimes” for me. I was grateful it wasn’t a “not always” time for me.
One of my oldest friends sent me a New York Times article, “The Memory Stone” written by Olivia Judson. It is the last of an eight part series and centers around closing up her parents’ home. It was perfect for me because it confirmed in my heart that when a house becomes a home it evolves into something that is so much more that the physical structure. There is energy in the air that holds memories long evaporated in our minds. Security that protects us may be invisible but present nonetheless. Each time you shake the outside and all that weighs on you as you cross the threshold of your home you have the opportunity to leave behind the world and its reality and focus on what matters most to you. The events within a home are not always pretty. Life really is a messy affair. Regardless, it is still your home. It is where you seek refuge. It is where you often find peace. And if you are lucky, it is where you experience grace.
When it came time to walk through the empty, cavernous, echoing house on 12200 Dark Star Court, I used Olivia Judson’s stone idea. She wrote of using just one stone as an anchor to gather her memories; I chose a handful of stones that we kept on a shelf from places we visited on family vacations. As I began my walk, I started on the lower level. A storm was raging outside and even that was providential. The thunder, lightening and pounding rain was as if God’s orchestra was playing just for me and me alone. I held one stone in my hand as I entered the recreation room and closed my eyes to see and hear the most vivid memories of our family in that room… First, when it was just an ugly room and I used one of the walls to function as a tennis backboard. Later when it housed my brother and his family as they were transitioning to Northern Virginia. Next, when it was my son’s bedroom as we were then four generations under one roof. There in that room, Jon told me his girlfriend was pregnant. They were only sixteen. Eventually that room along with the rest of the lower level was renovated and became the haven for Jon’s eldest son, Andrew. With my eyes closed I could hear him laughing with his St. Andrew and Gonzaga friends. The room next to it was first an office for Jon when he was in grad school, then an exercise room and eventually a room for Jerry’s caretaker. The bathroom was a HUGE improvement over the previous one where we found a bat swimming in the original commode. Yes, indeed. In Jerry’s last months, the large shower and bench was perfect for his fragile health. I could hear him saying as he often did, “Val, you did a great job on this bathroom. It works perfect for me.” Then my prayer closet I built under the stairs. How I loved my quiet time there and the grace He extended me by always showing up even when I didn’t.
Next, I selected another stone and walked through my living room. Oh…those dinner parties for fifty or more people, the belly dancer, Santa Claus, Christmas Carols, Andrew’s amazing chops on the piano, the Christmas tree, garlands on the fireplace hearth, presents being opened, tea parties for baby showers, introductions of missionaries to friends over coffee and then some crazy pyramid promotion by a member of one of my tennis groups (yes…obviously not one of my finest moments).
The dining room deserved its own stone as well. It was the scene of many gatherings. I loved to cook and Jerry loved to entertain. We did a lot of that over the years. Big buffet parties, small dinner parties, birthday parties with crepe paper that sometimes graced the dining room ceiling long after the party was over. I mean long after. Many of those holiday gatherings were happy times. Not all. There were those moments that were full of unmet expectations. Times when the food didn’t turn out right. Or a bit too many passive aggressive comments expressed. Someone mad at someone else. A day that fell flat. But the scales always tipped in favor of the good times.
The kitchen. Big stone for that room. It was where everything happened. Where Jerry would walk in from work and go straight to the kids to hug and kiss them; Jennifer just four and Jon an infant in his carrier. It housed the kitchen table that was the spot of all our discussions about the day. It was where things could go south in an instant. I closed my eyes and felt and saw the scene of so many good times and some crazy ones too. A place where the range could stop working on the day you were expecting fifty people for dinner yet house a Bunsen burner to save the day. A place where Jerry would grab me around the waist and nuzzle my neck at the sink while I washed the dishes. Sometimes I was receptive, other times not. A place where I prepared food for family and friends. Where my generous friends helped me make tiropeta, dolmathes, kourambiedes, koulourakia and spanakopita just to name a few. I appreciated the help and loved the fellowship.
The den became the spot where our family gathered to watch movies, TV shows, play games, share conversations, work and on occasion read. A typical list of things people do in a den. But they were our things and that made them more than just what they were. In my mind, I could go right back to the time Jerry and the kids were laying on the floor watching Dracula and a bat flew out of the fireplace right in front of the TV. Yes. It did. It is where I rocked my first grandchild to sleep. Eventually, it was the place Jerry rested most of the day those last few months in a chair and ottoman that became his refuge. And I, his companion, listened to his breathing trying to process that one day it would be just me in a silent room.
Each of the bedrooms got their own stone. Jennifer’s room was first hers and then I was lucky she was willing to share it with me when things were rocky between Jerry and me. Next, it became a shelter for friends of ours that lost their home. Jon took it over, then Andrew. My guest room was first Yaya’s room, then my Mom’s and then my room when I felt the need to run away. Jon’s room became Andrew and Sarah’s room, then Andrew’s room and finally an office for me that I rarely used. Last was my bedroom. Yes…if walls could talk. It was a wonderful, sunlit, big room that opened to a sitting room. Over the years we changed the furniture around multiple times. TV in. TV out. Bed under the windows. Bed on the big wall. Kids showing up in the middle of the night to crawl into bed with us. Jon banging on the door in the middle of the afternoon with his tonka truck trying to get into a locked room and Jerry telling him that we were working on his Christmas list with Santa. I left those tonka truck marks on the door for a long time. They were good for a smile.
The walk through the house was almost spiritual. You see, the time between the dash 1974-2014 was grand in so many ways. The grandness of it shone through the ugliness. That too is providential. And for that reason I was able to say, “Thank You House for being such a perfect place for us” as I walked through each room. It gave us walls to enclose us and provided a safe place for us to be ourselves. It was always warm and inviting, strong and protective.
My home housed our memories in every crevice, in every corner. They floated in the air suspended for me to grasp at any time. That night as I closed the door behind me, I took them all with me. Every one of them. 12200 Dark Star Ct was God’s gift to us and so I will add, “Thank You, God”!