Before her father built the house in 1929, there was nothing but weeds. Now, almost a century later, the house stands as a testament to the American dream. The yard is tidy, and a flower pot sits neatly on the rail of the newly built access ramp. The garage is new also, built at the end of a neatly trimmed side drive. Gentle breezes smelling of fresh-cut grass and hay fields caress the flag hangs proudly off her deck. Her slider, where she sits almost every day, is in perpetual shade beneath the awning. From the outside, it looks perfect; a time capsule of the hopes and dreams of generations gone by.
Stepping through the door, the scent of fresh country air is replaced by the smell of decay. Boxes and papers are stacked along the walls, creating tight pathways through her home which she finds difficult at times to navigate. The kitchen table houses Tupperware cleaned and saved from yogurt tubs or Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter, awaiting the day that leftovers would fill them, and leaving little room for anything else. The pantry is filled to bursting with unopened and expired condiments and meals. This doesn’t concern her much, though, as she doesn’t cook much anymore.
In the living room, the piano is silent, buried under photographs of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She’d thought once that she might teach herself to play, but her daughter’s books had disappeared. Taken, she would repeat, by her daughter-in-law for her granddaughter’s use. And anyway, she smiles ruefully, she can no longer quite make it onto the bench. The relics of another era – a wood burning stove with a copper pot atop, dated Christmas decorations, old Boy Scout calendars – all these things surround her in her first-floor sanctuary, where her recliner, the only place she can sleep now, faces a tv with a built-in VCR.
The floors above and below are a mystery to her now. Her children, protective of her life, disallow her journeying up or down the sagging steps to rooms she once knew intimately. She stores things on the steps leading upwards, their horizontal succession perfect for the stowing of now useless things. She knows from what her children tell her that the sheets are clean on the only accessible bed, and that the hole in the roof has been sealed, but not repaired or painted. She surmises from what she remembers and overhears when her aide was working that there are piles of artefacts upstairs and down dating back to times before her own father, and that comforts her. She knows that she could have thrown much of it out, perhaps given it to charity, but having those things there reminds her of the past, even if she never gets to see them.
The same will happen later, when she’s gone. Her family and friends will hold onto keepsakes she leaves behind, some stored in jewellery boxes and photo albums, some hung on walls, and some relegated to dark corners of storage. Just their presence will be enough to remember her by. Even the house will be a reminder for years to come. Though it is older than her, it will inevitably outlast her, as it did her father. It will stand as a monument to her unshakable presence in the lives she touched, and they will make a keepsake of all the memories made within its walls. Once she’s gone, even if they never visit, knowing the house is there where she left it will help her children and grandchildren remember her.
For now, though, she wanders the channels she has kept clear, and she remembers. She remembers roasting chestnuts in the wood burning stove while her mother and father looked on, and sitting by the fire learning to knit and crochet as her father marked the Boy Scout calendar with a reminder for one event or another. She remembers decorating a freshly-cut tree with decorations newly bought from the general store, and remembers all the people that joined them to sing carols around the piano.
She rests her eyes, and wonders what will remind her children of her when she is gone. Will it be the four leaf clovers she’s found over the years, or perhaps the paintings she has done? Will her odd collection of mugs and teacups make its way into her children’s lives, or will it be relegated to the “donate” box? Times change, and her children will not inhabit her house like she did her parents’. They have their own lives, their own homes, their own spaces. They will be shifting her things into places she’s never been, where her ghost will never haunt but in these relics they will take. Of all these things that she has collected in her life, which will speak to them in her voice, and assure them of her never ending love and devotion? For most people, this question would go unanswered; for her, the answer was simple. Yes.