It is here at last – 29th February 2016. I have been working towards it, waiting for it, for so very long. It is the end of the journey, the final step, the longed-for resolution. Hopefully the line we draw today will bring a measure of closure to a 15 year season and I will be able to finally let go and turn to face the future: I will lock the front door for the last time and post the keys back through the letter box for the new owners to pick up in the morning.
However as our daughter just commented on the phone, ‘…and Sam’s still dead’. That doesn’t just go away. We may leave the house where he grew from a schoolboy to a young man, where he brought his American lover and where he so often returned to ‘vent’ or eat a bacon bagel with me from his little house over the road, but the memories, sharpened by many photographs, live on behind my eyes.
Apart from that there are so many other memories and photographs of visitors,
gatherings, meals, parties – all the happenings of the years. We used the house well and encouraged others to do so. I once had 9 young people staying overnight at once and on my 55th birthday 3 couples had their own large double bedrooms to sleep in – so good to be able to do that. One of the other bedrooms was our kids’ teenage ‘TV room’ with MTV blaring most of the time – until Sam got his X-box. There were all those lovely Christmases with the 6 foot tree in the lounge and barbecue parties with tables laid out in the flower-filled garden. I spent so many mornings sitting in the sunshine in the lounge and on cosy winter evenings we would huddle in front of the ‘coal effect’ gas fire, side by side on the sofa with our laptops. And all that’s without mentioning the large kitchen-diner, the big table around which so many friends had memorable meals and collapsed in the feather sofa by the large wood-burner afterwards.
And on and on. The painter coming in to do one room at a time – it took him 18 months – the new kitchen we put in, that amazing bathroom we finally had done in 2012. Gradually over the past 4 years the rooms were turned over to other uses: our friends moved in – first a phD student in Sam’s room, then a couple in Becca’s room, using the TV room as a sitting room/nursery for their new baby, adding bath toys to the coloured lights and walk-in shower. In the last 3 months a young family took over the whole top floor so my sitting room that was the art studio that was the prayer room that was the sixth bedroom finally became a baby’s bedroom. It gave me a good reason to bring old beds and clothes and boxes of school work – Becca’s art and philosophy books – downstairs to be disposed of appropriately.
The gradual departure has all gone according to plan. I can’t find fault with any of it, from the time we stopped sleeping there in January last year, just after Sam had left his little house for good – through the season of the lovely lodgers with their adventurous toddler making it their own, to last summer when we brought our furniture to Leicester and began to make this new originally rented house our proper home. Then the unexpected family who needed somewhere to live on return from France filled the gap when all the others moved out and showed the prospective buyers round on our behalf. We quickly got an acceptable offer from a cash buyer, a family with twin girls who had moved up from London and have been renting locally. They were willing to wait until 1st March to avoid us redeeming our fixed rate mortgage too early. They like the location near the schools and I guess they love the house: what’s not to love? They can afford to give it some necessary tlc.
While the family from France moved into their own place and after they’d gone, I worked really hard to empty and clear and prepare the house a room at a time, right down to the last book and shirt, board game and baby toy under the sofa, wardrobe and sofa, document and signature. Having cleared many of the bedrooms in advance, I was now left with hidden cupboards and our own rooms full of collected paper, books and the aggregate of years to tackle. Argh, Martin’s study! CD’s and books – and the vinyl! My study with all those documents and memorabilia stacked on shelves just because we had room for them! I pulled collections of unused lotions, potions and medicines out of the utility room cupboard along with clouds of dust: this house was so large we had just kept everything. The kitchen cupboards were like a charity shop, I had enough old clothes to fill one and the under-stairs cupboard smelt like one. We had always imagined our biggest problem in moving would be what to do with the art collection Martin had assembled over the years – so many very large pieces by local young artists! What would we do with them all? But – amazing grace – everything we wanted to keep has fitted into our new home, which has similar proportions if not quite so many floors and rooms… and we took them with us a few at a time until all were moved across.
That has been our saving grace – the gradual process of withdrawing and rebuilding. Although hard on my patience muscle I have been able to tackle it in bite-sized pieces. It was hard during the months when neither of the houses really felt like home, but around Christmas and since New Year Leicester has become the place my heart belongs as we have found places for all our furniture, pictures, and the books and music that have been allowed to stay in this down-sized version of our lives.
Each time I went back to visit Loughborough, collect post, see friends in town, read the meters, collect some more pictures, car loads were taken to the charity shops and the tip and finally a van came to dispose of the old furniture no-one would ever want to use again. I stripped the garden of ornaments and pots: there are just a few more favourite perennials to divide and bring back to plant in my new garden, one of my last tasks today along with reading the meters and leaving a forwarding address. I always dreaded having to leave the garden into which I put so much love and hours of creative pleasure, but it is February so it’s not too bad in the end and we’ve started planting a garden here, a new creative project to look forward to. Spring is at the door…
The old house itself is now just a shell echoing with the laughter and music of ghosts. To be honest it looks dreadful in there – every room needs decorating, the back steps have been removed to get at the drains and still need rebuilding, you can see the stains on the kitchen walls and woodwork where a leak was repaired last year… I wouldn’t have to energy to tackle it now. I think it might even be too much and too large for the young family who have taken it on! But none of that is my responsibility anymore.
It will be hard to say good bye – but we have some friends coming to help, to send us off. Nothing can bring back those times anyway, any more than we could bring back our childrens’ childhood or our own youth. All our lives are like this, a journey where things die and we must move on: as someone has said it: “what once was fire is now ash”. Despite being “the longest move in history” – as lodger Ben said – surely the timing is perfect and in view of that rare event of Leap Day I am making this my verse for the day:
“But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall” Malachi 4v2
Let it be! Now I must drive to Burton St for the last time and make an end.