Dear modest two-bedroom rancher on a corner lot with a huge yard and a garage door that seldom closed on its own without some kind of applied brute force:Seven years and three months ago we moved in. There were just two of us then. We were pleased to have found you, even if your wooden kitchen cabinets overwhelmed us with their, well, woodiness. And even if your dirty white vinyl siding never quite appealed to us. You welcomed us with open rooms—six, to be exact. Seven if you include the half-finished basement that for years I refused to enter except to do laundry, for fear that mold and mildew and cobwebs would compromise my immune system. And, there was that one time when Nora was an infant and we took refuge there during a tornado warning, even though Liam insisted on telling me the whole time I was being ridiculous.
Over the years though, basement, you grew on me. Kind of. I spruced you up with furniture and covered your drab wood-paneled walls with colorful bunting. I set up a doll house and a train table. A handmade teepee hideout. I transformed you into a sort of kid play space. I tried to ignore the darkness and the presence of the occasional mouse nest and the rotting window wood as best I could, so that on cold, wet days my kids could enjoy playing somewhere other than the living room.
Thank you for watching over the girls and for keeping them from concussing their little heads on your hard cement floors, covered only by an old, worn out carpet, maybe an eighth of an inch thick. Thank you also for preventing them from falling down your scary dangerous, steep, wooden stairs, with the hand rail so high, the kids couldn’t even attempt to reach it until they were two. I’ll admit to you now, them falling was one of my worst fears. Maybe you always suspected that though, because, when I wasn’t hovering near the top of the stairs holding my breath as I watched the girls go down, I was forever cautioning them to take their time and not push one another, or else walking in front of them should I need to break their fall. I have to confess. I am glad the boy will be elsewhere when he learns to walk. He is crawling swiftly and steadily climbing already just shy of seven months old. I fear for his physicality and can only imagine how recklessly he would have handled your stairs.
Basement, you saw us through the exchange of countless washers and dryers. The filling and dumping of a rusty old dehumidifier. The storage of loads of photos and baby clothes and camping gear and important documents and random furniture we couldn’t bear to throw out. Lastly, I’ll never forget your sump pump with the gnarly rotting wood covering the hole that led down to the well that will always remind me of the one that Baby Jessica fell into back in the 1980s. Thanks be to God that none of our babies fell down that well like she did all those years ago in Texas.
I will miss your spacious yard and magical trees maybe the most of all. Not raking your fall leaves, mind you, an annual activity I really could have done without. One that could be expected to last over a month, with four or five consecutive weekends spent raking abundant leaves onto a weathered green tarp, and then dragging said tarp to the side of the yard to dump pile after pile after pile of brown crinkly yard waste where the grass met the road. But, I did love gazing out your living room, kitchen and bedroom windows and watching the spring and summer leaves on the branches of your old and wise trees blow about in the breeze. I did sometimes worry that during bad storms one of the branches on your biggest tree—the one closest to the house—might crack and strike our house and impale one of us in our sleep. So, thanks again for keeping that from ever happening.
House—in the beginning, I loved mowing your lawn. The riding mower was new to me. A challenge to be learned. As a teenager, I was never allowed to mow the grass at our childhood home. My mother had suffered from an unfortunate mowing accident, whereupon running over a piece of rusty metal wire, the sole of her sneaker was pierced by the same flying wire debris, which resulted in a broken bone in her foot. And no Yost child ever partaking in the mowing of the lawn thereafter.
Somewhere in the middle, I detested mowing your lawn. When Liam got busy at work, it meant that one of the two of us had to spend two hours of our only weekend day off together mowing. Precious time we wanted to spend with each other.
Toward the end, I both loved and hated mowing your lawn. Yes, it was a time sucker. But it also provided me precious free time to escape being a mom for just a little bit. For two hours every other weekend, I got to zone out and enjoy the peace and meditation that came from mindlessly weaving linear patterns back and forth across your yard. Perhaps most importantly, mowing your lawn provided me precious opportunities to show my daughters that girls can cut grass just as well as (if not better than!) boys. We would have included the kids more in mowing but for your mower’s loud ass engine as well as its shifty seat which liked to wobble dangerously from time to time.
Remember the year of the bountiful cut flower garden? It had always been a dream of mine to grow a patch of flowers from which I could cut fresh stems to bring inside and display colorful bouquets. The neighbors oohed and aahed over you. We never could quite get you to grow to the fullness of that one summer. Liam insists it’s because he planted the seeds that first time, not me, that the garden flourished. Hmmpf! It’s not my fault the rabbits were particularly hungry in subsequent years.We cut our gardening teeth on your soil. In addition to flowers, we grew vegetables and planted blueberry bushes. We composted halfheartedly off and on over the years. We experimented with canning, pickling and preserving foods like cucumbers, asparagus, strawberry jam, and tomatoes—always a scene of frenzied chaos!
Another beloved outdoor space of ours—your front porch—was home to many creative and hands-on projects. We made art there with sidewalk chalk, paints and natural materials. We husked corn and ripped kale. We smushed ants—well, at least the four-year-old did. We blew bubbles and whistles and screamed at the top of our lungs at passersby. We swung on the hammock swing and sat on the steps to pass the time and wait for Daddy to get home. We danced in rain puddles and stomped around in snow.
For sure, the space that most evolved over the years was the bedroom. In the beginning, there were just two people sharing a giant king-sized bed. If we had to give away all but one piece of furniture in our home, I am sure my husband and I would agree we could not part with the bed. It is that comfortable. Our safe haven.
One of my most vivid and meaningful memories of our time spent under your roof involves that bed. One evening, in late fall of 2011, Liam and I had just finished rearranging the bedroom furniture. I was five or six months pregnant with Nora at the time, and we were making space to accommodate some new things for the baby. We pushed the bed under one of the windows in the bedroom, and then stopped to enjoy a moment of rest on the bare, plush mattress whose sheets were being cleaned in the laundry. We snuggled up side-by-side in the dark, with the window cracked open, so we could enjoy the cool breeze. We lay quietly for a time, appreciating the stillness. Then, rather abruptly, I started to cry. I confessed that I had been worried about what having a new baby might do to change the relationship I had with Liam. I felt that although I was excited about the new baby, I was somehow mourning in that moment, the loss of the two of us. We would soon be three. Our lives would change forever. We agreed that although we decidedly would change, we would strive to always make time to be two again.
Many years later, our lives have changed. Sometimes beyond recognition. Sometimes not. We no longer binge watch TV shows on the couch. Or stay up late just hanging out. Or cuddle up without some clinger wedging herself in between us. But, we still make time for date night. Well, at least once every few months. And we still make each other laugh out loud. If one were to walk into the bedroom now, one would see how we have wedged a twin bed up against our beloved king—an accommodation we made just two months ago to include everyone in the family bed. I admit it’s a tad bit ridiculous. But it works for us. I still lie under that window and feel the breeze from time to time and remember that moment years ago, and thank God for how lucky and blessed we all are to have each other.Over the years we have ensconced ourselves safely inside your bedroom walls. Sleeping, dreaming, bonding, nursing, cuddling. Waking. Waking. Always waking. Your walls have heard our nighttime whisper curses being flung about here and there through teething spells, stomach bugs and that infant developmental bullshit where babies just decide to be up for no good reason at all but to piss their parents the fuck off. You have heard us say time and again, “Why the hell don’t we have cribs for our fucking children?!” And yet, we have remained steadfast in our desire to sleep next to our babies. We have grown our family of just two to a very full FIVE. We believe our children are becoming affectionate, confident, independent and empathetic beings as a result of sharing this sleeping space with us (if not also attached). But one day they will be gone, and these memories will remain.
I think, perhaps, the room I liked least in your space was the bathroom. Mostly because I abhorred cleaning it. Remember those three or four times when I lost or left house keys somewhere out and about, and had to break in through the only open window in the house—the bathroom window. I always made quite a scene when that happened. Thanks for being open, though. We woulda been screwed if you hadn’t been.
We loved building fires in your fireplace and making blanket forts in just about every room. We used your walls to adorn photographs of our loved ones and artwork made by little hands. We spread cushions on the floor and bounced around on them. We had picnics with fake food and picnics with real food on that same floor. We said prayers together at meal times and prayers at bedtime. We watched way too much PBS Kids (especially in recent days, what with all the packing that’s been going on) and built towers of wooden blocks again and again and again.
Remember that magical Christmas Eve when Liam made seafood fra diavolo for dinner, and he and I talked about how blessed we were to have had such special grandparents in our lives? And then he proposed. Do you remember how I said yes? And how we laughed and laughed afterwards? He still makes that same meal now every Christmas Eve. It’s become a tradition that began at a table in your dining room, and will continue on for years to come.
Remember also the time my water broke at 2:00 a.m. and we rushed off to the hospital? Sorry about that mucous plug that dropped on your floor. I had no idea it was coming. Really. It scared the shit out of me, too. I was fortunate to begin to labor with the other two babies under your roof as well, but in a much calmer state than the first time around. Each time we brought home a child from the hospital, we enjoyed peaceful days of sitting on the couch getting to know her or him. Then, there were the sleepless nights. Not so soon forgotten.
You gave our children their first sense of feeling part of a community, a neighborhood. There is Mr. Larry and Mrs. Betty right next door. They ADORE the kids. They’ve told us time and again how they have loved watching the kids grow up in the backyard from the sunroom behind their house. They recall fondly the way Nora waddled about when she first learned to walk, and how she chased around after the wiffle golf balls Liam would hit about when working on his swing.
Then there’s Tim and Deb across the street. I’ll never forget the first Halloween after we moved in. Liam had been working late in Harrisburg. I saw Tim and Deb huddled up in winter weather gear passing out candy to the neighborhood youngsters. They had coozies of beer in one hand, and Twizzlers in another. I left my bowl of candy when I saw them, went in to grab my winter hat with the ear flaps, and trudged across the street carrying my own beer in a coozy to join them. Because why the hell not?
Miss Isabel is next to them, and beyond that house, Mrs. Dorothy and Mr. Charlie, along with Snickers, the dog. Over the years, we loved watching out for Miss Isabel taking walks, and driving her car on errands, long after she was supposed to have given up driving on orders from her doctors. We loved spotting Mrs. Dorothy at church, in addition to looking out for her daily walks with Snickers. We enjoyed stopping to chat with everyone. Especially Miss Val, and her pooch sidekick Potsie. Miss Val always had all the news of the neighborhood and always greeted the kids with genuine concern for their wellbeing.
Our girls made their first little friends in your neighborhood too. In the beginning, there was Tella. And then her little sister, Emme. More recently, we’ve befriended Avery and Katie. A gaggle of girls.
We so enjoyed walking the streets of your neighborhood and getting to know our neighbors. We always made our loop around the ‘new’ neighborhood (which one friend recently dubbed the ‘rich’ neighborhood—ha!) and then figure-eighted back around to your neighborhood, our neighborhood—the old neighborhood. We rode trikes, bikes, friends’ scooters, strollers. We carried babies in wraps, slings, backpacks, Bjorns, and Ergos. We ran, walked, marched, sang, skipped, hopped, jumped, and held hands. We sometimes threw ourselves down on your streets because things were not going our way and cried. We spied pumpkins, Christmas decorations, pets, cars and trucks, sewage drains, stop signs and the occasional running water. We collected pinecones, acorns, leaves, bugs and rocks. We happily exchanged books at the Free Little Library in front of Deborah’s house.
And so house, in just five days’ time, a moving truck will pull into your driveway, and we will pack up our belongings and move north to Connecticut. I don’t know who will live in you next, but I hope it is a young family who will find you charming in precisely all the ways we did. And will be willing to overlook and put up with all that’s wrong with you—like the summertime ants, the deathtrap basement stairs, the damn portable dishwasher that hooks up to the sink, and the broken front screen door which my nephew Desmond ripped off its hinge, and which we never made time to fix. Oh, and the cable that fell down in the back alleyway during a storm years ago. I’ve called Comcast to come and fix it about five times over the years. I’m sorry to say that to this day they’ve never responded. Maybe your future tenants will have better luck. We are looking forward to moving on to someplace new. But we are sad to be leaving behind the home—your home—in which we have had so many happy memories, and a neighborhood in which we’ve made so many wonderful friends. We will not soon forget you. Know that we will be back to visit. In drive-bys and walkthroughs, I am certain our paths will cross again.
In the meantime, don’t be lonely. This winter will be sure to bring back the mice. And then, the summertime ants will be just around the corner.
With deep love, gratitude and affection,
The Powers Family