From where I’m standing, there are two schools of thought on what to do with a place, a home, when one of the people who loved it and lived within its walls perishes. It’s inevitable, I suppose, that part of what you once loved about the home would leave along with the departed, causing the remaining inhabitant(s) to become prisoners of their own surroundings. But it’s also true that you might love the place all the more for the memories it stirs, deriving comfort and familiarity. Such is the paradox of a home in mourning. It remains partly a tribute to the person who loved it and partly haunted by their absence. How much of one or the other tugs at the subconscious is what inevitably drives us to either stay submerged in the memory or move forward its shadow.
To summarize my metaphorical ramblings, I’m grieving the loss of my grandparents’ house. Since my grandmother, Oma, died in 2009, my grandfather, Papa, has been diligently keeping the house they shared together in working order. I wouldn’t say he’s been struggling with the upkeep, but it’s not been without it’s challenges. A few days ago, he finally moved out—putting the only house I’ve known he and Oma to call home, on the market for the highest bidder.
It’s a beauty of a house, a grand old thing they built together in the Texas hill country before I was born. Allegedly they traveled the country in an RV for some undetermined but lengthy amount of time before deciding there was no better place on this planet to retire than the outskirts of New Braunfels, Texas. They bought two adjacent lots and planted their house in the middle of a grove of native trees. As a kid, it was an epic destination, as every proper grandparent house ought to be. To begin with, the house served as the setting in which I was permitted to inhale more homemade cookies than I was ever allowed at home. Then there was the hearth, which instead of a traditional fireplace, was actually an elevated stone platform that played host to a shiny blue franklin stove. But this unconventional setup turned out to be the ideal location for after dinner “talent” shows where I forced my doting family to sit through dramatic readings of my favorite children’s books or bizarre musical numbers I had written 15 minutes prior to showtime. Bro’s and my original performance of Mexican Date, I’m told was a big hit. But cookies and attention-seeking behavior aside, the house is where I did my bonding with Oma. That’s where we cooked together and picked peaches. We rocked back and forth on the porch together, admiring the rolling grass like you’d admire waves from the deck of a ship. She told me stories and in turn I’m sure I provided an endless supply of laughter and general adorableness. It’s where I had the privilege to truly know my only living biological grandparent. After Oma died, the house is where I took Heath to engage in philosophical debates with Papa that would start around 5, cocktail hour, and carry on well into the night. The routine was fairly standard—cocktails at 5, dinner around 6:30, mind-spinning conversation until 9 and then sherry on the porch; but while predictable, dinners at Papa’s house were nonetheless looked forward to with monumental anticipation. Two weeks ago, Heath and I had our last-ever cocktail hour in the most consistent house of my childhood, and it’s not an easy experience to swallow.
The reasons for Papa relinquishing control of the house are fairly practical. It’s a lot of upkeep for one person, and while New Braunfels has grown exponentially from the time he and Oma first settled in, it’s a bit of a drive from the town center. And he’s lonely, I would be too. And living that far, that isolated from human interaction was wearing on him. He traded drinking sherry alone for the opportunity to dine with friends in a growing retirement community. I’m glad he knows what he wants, and that at 88 he doesn’t think he’s too old to go after it. I admire that. And if I chose that path for myself, I would want my grandkids, hell, everyone, to be happy for me.
But I’m still a little heartbroken. Damn those childhood houses and their emotional hooks.
The philosophical debates on exestentialism and excessive wine drinking will continue, however; even if the venue has changed. And that is something I can cheers to.