My last truly important birthday was probably my 18th, and that was a long, long time ago. I still feel like I’m 18, act like I’m 12, and sleep like I’m 5 months old. But life doesn’t often let you live in the blissful ignorance that I’ve mastered. Nothing will make you feel the icy fingers of mortality around your neck like cleaning out your childhood home, putting it up for sale, and preparing to close that lengthy chapter of your life.
That’s what has occupied me for the past two weeks. My sisters and I looked through our parents’ remaining belongings, decided what to keep and what to sell. Eventually the rooms in that very familiar house became empty and small. We sat at the kitchen table and repeated the stories we’ve told many times about life in that house. We noticed that a cardinal flew by — an in-family omen of my Mom — and that a penny appeared on the floor of my bedroom — an omen of my Dad. We cleaned and straightened and prepared for the realtor to usher through interested buyers and nosy neighbors. I focused on the garage and set aside some of the odds and ends that my Dad had left there, grabbing at the rapidly disappearing threads that connected him to the life I now find myself wandering through.
And today, my odometer clicked up another meaningless notch. Which is strange, because I never feel any older on this anniversary, but I know that I must be, because those days with them in that little warm house seem so long ago. And I know now, sadly, that the empty house is part of my life going forward, as much as the one that rocked with laughter and happiness. I guess that growing up, which I am still doing at 48, is a matter of trading experiences for memories. I’m lucky, because almost all of them have been good, thanks to life in that little house.