When Your Parents Sell Your Childhood Home

My parents have sold their house. They close on Friday. That's right: they're handing over the keys to the house my dad built a year or two before I was born. So, we're talking 35 years of home base suddenly ceasing to exist.

I had no idea how painful it is to relinquish your childhood home.

My parents' house is not terribly fancy. Sitting on about an acre, on the crest of a mountain but nestled into the side of a hill, surrounded by enormous cedars and the World's Greatest Sledding hill, it was home.

Let me reiterate the Not Fancy part. Oh, sure, TODAY it is all updated and sparkling-new renovated and beautiful and bright and uncluttered and move-in ready. Yes, there's a whiff of bitterness about seeing everything finished and spruced up---a new wet bar (the rough-ins were there for 30+ years), a warm basement (long, long story), closet doors (for reals)---done only when someone else gets to live there.

However, I'll make like Elsa in Frozen and Let It Go.

When I was home (ack, see how I still call it home?) in July, we were out on the back deck. Charlotte was carefully climbing down the stairs. "I love this deck," she said.

"Papa built this deck," I told her.

Charlotte's eyes widened. "He did?"

"Yes. Just like he built our deck, remember?" Then I added, "In fact, Papa built this WHOLE house."

Charlotte turned to face me, stunned. "This whole, entire house?" She paused to ponder the magnitude of such an undertaking. "Wow. Papa must've been really tired after all that!"

"He paced himself really well," Mums said dryly, from the other end of the deck. "He had 35 years to do it."

Anyway. A perfect house it was not, but it was home. A familiar smell, a fits-just-right FEEL, a comfy sense of home that even my own home in Maryland doesn't yet have. What was it about that house? Was it just so FAMILIAR? And how can I get that feeling HERE?

I haven't lived there for 16 years, yet I feel suddenly unanchored. Chris tells me this is nuts. HERE is home, HERE is where the roots are now, HERE is home base. I get that, but in the back of my mind, I always knew that if tragedy struck or things fell apart or the state of Maryland cracked and fell off into the sea, I could always go home. And home was THERE, at my parents' house.

It's like I have to be a grown-up now. FOR REAL.

None of this makes sense, and it's not even true, but hey. It's what it feels like.

I don't envy my parents having to walk through their empty house tomorrow. I cannot imagine. "This is where I raised my kids!" my mom tearfully told me the other night on the phone.

Oh, I know, Mama. It's most definitely where I was raised.

I remember running down the hall in my footie pajamas after a bath. (Heck, I remember MY children running down that hall in their footie pajamas.) I remember spinning in the living room with Tyler to Emmylou Harris's "Christmas Time's a Comin'" on the RECORD PLAYER after decorating the tree. I remember coloring the couch with purple marker and blaming my brother. I remember setting up the nativity scene on the bricks around the woodstove and one of the wise men falling over and losing his head. I remember Christmas cookie "stations" in the kitchen where Mums and us kids would make cookies and screech at Dad to stop eating the dough. I remember when Dad surprised us with phones in our rooms by hiding them and calling us when we got inside.

I remember laying in front of the woodstove with our black lab, Louie, and coloring. I remember teaching many piano students at the old piano in the living room. I remembered the sun-dappled driveway during summer and the maple leaf-covered hill during fall. I remember the trail connecting the properties of our house and the neighbors--every bush, plant, and tree, along with where to jump over roots that might trip you. I remember Dad burying Barney, letting me touch his dead body telling me, "That dog isn't going to chase you any more." I remember water gun fights with the neighbors that were like guerilla warfare. I remember laying on the couch, sick and puking into the yellow popcorn bowl while Mom, with a pained look on her face, called the doctor to say the sulfa was making me sick.

I remember the sound of Mom's clicking high-heels on the kitchen floor, cuing me that she was leaving for work now. I remember playing hours of Duck Hunt on the Nintendo in the basement. I remember my folks turning off the heater in the hot tub during summer so we could have a "pool." I remember Dad suggesting we drive around to get Christmas light ideas and then surprising us, having already strung up the lights. I remember Mom bringing a hot-out-of-the-oven sweet roll to me in bed, the night before Thanksgiving. I remember losing control on my bike and speeding down our steep driveway, crashing and generating a lot of blood. I remember Mom reading to us trillions of books in the living room and in her bedroom. I remember throwing my metronome across the living room in frustration because the piano piece I was trying to learn was just too hard. I remember staring at my bedroom ceiling, wondering if I'd ever leave and where I'd end up going.

I remember Tyler flinging the Honda over the side of the driveway and us getting it towed out before my parents found out. I remember fighting with my dad in the dining room about going to Occidental. I remember Chris walking down the driveway for the first time to meet my parents. I remember my wedding dress hanging from a strong hook on the bedroom ceiling. I remember the paramedics hoisting my very ill mother onto a stretcher in the living room last November. I remember hanging out with my friend Julie this past July, as we'd done a thousand times at this house before, this time with our kids playing together.

The Opps? We had a good run there. Perfect? No. Good? Yes.

A young family is moving into the house next---something that gratifies me greatly. I hope hope hope that this house becomes THEIR home base, their anchor, their old-shoe-familiar place. I hope they learn to reverse the hot/cold on the kid shower and somehow intuit the light switch order at the end of the hall. They'll never know that they have a 49er star's carpet in the kid bedrooms (another long story), or that three beloved dogs are buried in the backyard, but that doesn't really matter. I hope they realize what wonderful neighbors they are getting. I hope they are very, very happy there. I hope they have a sled.

It's the end of an Opp era! Now, on to the next chapter: The Little Opp House on the Prairie.


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