The house I grew up in is nearly empty inside. Movers are coming to haul away what remains. Paperwork will soon make official what cardboard boxes have already established: the Marshalls have left the building.
My parents lived in the same house for more than 30 years. I was 4 when we first plopped an unfortunate red-patterned sofa in its family room. Maggie was 2, and Anna was a baby.
The house echoed with our plodding footsteps. We barely had enough furniture for one room, let alone several. I remember the space feeling both exhilarating and luxurious to my round eyes. There were nooks for dolls, halls for races, bathtubs for pool parties.
When Sarah was born, that was the house she came home to. We big girls spent most of a hot July morning sitting impatiently on the side porch, waiting for her arrival. She was placed in a crib in the kitchen, and didn’t seem to move, in general or from that crib, for weeks.
As we grew up, we grew into our space. The kitchen island perfectly fit four stools. The family room was lined with bookshelves that we stuffed with toys. We took over the third floor with our games of house, and office, and school.
There were enough bedrooms for each of us to have our own, but we didn’t need them. As soon as the youngest one could walk, she would join her older sisters in whatever room was hosting the slumber party that night. We snuggled into the same bed, or camped out on the floor in a pile of blankets and pillows.
I remember watching Maggie walk her dolls up and down the driveway. I remember watching Anna ride a two-wheel bike for the first time on the front yard. I remember watching Sarah swim in a plastic pool by the garage with her bathing suit on backwards.
Our friends came and went, for playdates, then sleepovers, then March Madness. Drakes, Gauvreaus and Stamells were there for all of the above. Brock’s dates dropped her off at our house, even though she lived on the other side of town. Mayra drank her first cup of warm apple cider over our stove. Jane came for days off from camp, and vacations from Colby, and to be my bridesmaid. I had several guy friends over the night my mother came home with a new hairdo; their reaction convinced her she should undo what she’d done.
The house was at its best during Christmas. The snow from outside cocooned us inside, and the lights from the tree and window candles returned a vibrating glow. The rooms hummed with warmth, fragrance, and the laughter of cousins. It was as if we were living inside a story.
Maybe we were.
Now, it’s time to close the book. My parents have been alone in that big house, save for holiday or summer visits from my sisters and our now-extended family. There’s an ample yard to mow, with no one to practice cartwheels on it. There’s a big roof to maintain, with no one to learn the piano beneath it. There are too many rooms to heat, with no one to memorize lines, or do homework, or ice a knee, or get dressed for her wedding in them.
The time has come, but it will never be the right time. That house has defined our family so completely that it has become part of our family. We looked to it as a beacon of happiness, and comfort, and understanding. It has been our anchor, never pulling us down, but always reminding us where to come back to, where we started.
Despite the life milestones I have passed, I have never felt my adulthood as significantly as I do now. My childhood home is no longer. The address that connected me to my sisters is where someone else will be receiving mail.
If I happen to turn down that long driveway, and park facing the bay window, and follow the brick walkway to the porch my parents added, I will face the front door.
And I will have to knock.