My parents are moving.
My mom uses a walker sometimes and can’t manage stairs. My dad, while he’s still skiing, hiking, and fishing, is tired of the never-ending to-do list that comes from owning a house.
They’re both in their eighties.
In a whirlwind Christmas season, we hosted our first-ever Christmas Eve dinner at our house, which has been a tradition in my husband’s family (and always at his parents’ house before) ever since I met him thirty years ago. Two days later, I was in a car heading across the state with my college-student son, so he could drop me off with my parents.
My son picked through his grandpa’s garage and hauled back a table saw, a drill press, hand tools, and many other treasures. He’ll pack them into our overstuffed garage until he gets a place of his own in a year. So he can do projects. Just like his dad. Just like his grandpa.
The world is changing beneath my feet.
In five exhausting days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, my parents, my brother, and I finished packing the things to go to their new apartment. Sorted out what was to stay behind for the estate sale. Tagged furniture. Found treasures. Laughed. Ached. Ate in the dining room at my parents’ new place. Met their new neighbors.
Rode the elevator up, down, up, and down. Hauled laundry baskets, lamps, and boxes from house to car to apartment and back. Met the movers. Watched in awe as they loaded a bed, dressers, chairs, tables, and endless, never-ending boxes. Tipped the movers and said goodbye. Found the laundry room. Drove their car while Mom held her prized blown glass table lamp in her lap and got it safely to the apartment.
Unpacked boxes. Bagged mounds of crumpled newspaper and bubble wrap. Hung pictures. Bolted bookcases to the walls. Found the silverware. Drove to Home Depot and Target. Hung shower curtains. Arranged and rearranged. Loaded all the extra stuff (“why on earth did we bring that?”) back to the house for the estate sale. Wash, rinse, repeat.
We spent time, just the four of us, Mom, Dad, my brother, and me. Without spouses or kids, the family we used to be, remembering things that only we know. That little china house with a chimney that held incense? Where did that go? Remember the house when we lived in California? There was a fish pond. Do you remember? Do you remember?
On many trips back to the mostly empty old house, we sorted through the remnants that will go in the sale. Did you forget this? Did you want that? End tables and lamps, endless books, a pottery bottle, decorative plates. Fabric and craft projects. Gardening tools.
Mom’s piano, bought secondhand for her little-girl piano lessons during the war years, and hauled to apartments and houses all over three states for the last seventy years. The dining room table and chairs they bought for this house. The 1960s bedroom set that I remember from their room in my childhood, long since relegated to the guest room. Mom’s china set that doesn’t match mine and that my brother’s kids and mine aren’t interested in. The remains of two lives well-lived that didn’t make the cut to the new place.
I kept thinking of my own college drop-off, thirty-four years ago. My parents loaded my stuff up the stairs in my dorm and they helped me unpack boxes and hang posters in that toothpaste-blue room with linoleum floors. We still joke about Mom wanting to arrange my underwear drawer.
Will they be safe? Will they be happy? Will they make friends? Is the food good? Can they afford it? (Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.)
When my parents dropped me at college, they had to leave when the RA told them it was time to go.
After five days, the boxes were unpacked, flattened, and hauled away. Their apartment looked like a small version of home, with the things I’ve seen around them since my childhood. The teak bookcases Dad built. The painting of a hotel in our town. Mom’s china teacups arranged in her cabinet. Mom’s dollhouse and Dad’s HAM radios in their spare bedroom. The antique mirror with hooks for Dad’s hats. The plate from a trip to France. Mom’s collection of china houses. Dad’s small statues of Venus and David from a trip to Italy in the sixties. Their favorite books.
On New Year’s Eve, I caught a bus for home.
I hugged my mom goodbye while she was still groggy in bed (it was really early). I choked back tears as I had a sudden vision of her bedridden at some future time. The skin on her arm is loose and soft under my hand. Somehow my parents have become old.
Out the bus window, I watched the sun rise over the snowy desert. As the snow slowly turned to rain, I rode home to my other life, where my college son was turning twenty-one (yes, on New Year’s Eve) and expecting a house full of his friends to help him celebrate.
My son is twenty-one.
My parents are over eighty.
Their house, the one they designed and built to retire in, will soon be sold. Dad’s workshop, Mom’s craft room, Dad’s orchard and greenhouse, their gathering place for our Christmases, summer trips, and ski trips.