I’m staring at a little bench with two bears painted on it, and I’m sobbing.
It was always in daughter Amy’s yellow and orange bedroom — her decorating choice — and she called it her “Three Bears Chair,” although it only had those two bears and wasn’t actually a chair.
Because that little bench meant so much to this daughter, I’ve carried it with us for decades, wherever we lived. But now it’s in the donate pile, one that has taken over practically every area in our house.
So this sobbing is a reaction to loss and change and memories. Powerful ones.
My husband and I are moving — likely for the last time — and to a small space. Too small for most sentimental indulgences.
In the meantime, this reality unavoidably has carried us back to the other moves.
There was the pure exhilaration of our very first house, the post-honeymoon one in a Levitt development in South Jersey. Of course we had never lived together before — this was 1960, just before the social revolution had swept away the notion that good girls don’t break rules. My friends and I still joke about being America’s last virgins.
Everything about that tiny house was an adventure, and only when we had filled it to the brim with three little girls did we face leaving it.
It was for another Levitt house, this one bigger and better. More bedrooms, a living room with a beamed ceiling, and yes, a family room. Fancy that!
Then it happened again, this time to another town and our ultimate dream house — an old Tudor with wonderful character and stained-glass windows. How we loved that house — and our life in it: birthdays and holidays, all the markers of the ripeness of middle age were enclosed within those stucco walls.
Then, while our backs were turned, along came the inescapable truth that we were actually rattling around in a house that was way too big, one that had become a demanding mistress we couldn’t handle anymore.
The sale sign went up, the strangers cascaded through our home, and one perfectly nice couple bought it. I tried not to think of them as usurpers.
That move, we thought then, was the very hardest of all.
We were off to a sensible condominium, less than a mile away, but like another universe.
Everyone agreed it had all we needed. The space was sensible. We didn’t have to mow the lawn or clear the snow. We tried to celebrate all of that, but we also felt a vague sense of loss. Not just of on-site kids. Not just of space. But of time.
Eventually, the condo that served us well for 15 years started to feel a bit cavernous. And our adult children also began to hint, gently at first, and then with more urgency, that it might be time for another move, this one to a more “protective” environment. In other words, a continuing care community.
“No way,” we would initially protest. “We’re not ready for that.”
They persisted. We resisted.
And then one day we found ourselves exploring places with pleasant names and lots of services. Health care. Transportation as needed. And continuing care as we grew more dependent.
It was all very polite and subtle.
And after a while, we came upon a place that felt right. Not in the deliriously excited way of the newlyweds we once were, or the proud and happy way we embraced the homes where there were five at the dinner table and a kind of bedlam that we secretly adored. Yes, those were the best house years, having nothing to do with floor plans and everything to do with what was going on within those walls.
So this move is vastly different.
Despite the fact that our cottage in a courtyard opens to a wonderful outdoor space, and many of our meals will be served to us in a perfectly pleasant dining room, there is an edge of sorrow.
We try to be cheerful as we pick out new linens and a few new pieces of furniture, undeniably of smaller scale than what we currently have. We tell each other that there will be a library and a gym right on the grounds, and that we’ll surely meet interesting people.
But as we sort and divest ourselves of the accumulations of a lifetime — as we stumble over the objects that we should have cleared away decades ago — we cling to them.
My husband has every reason to question why in the world I need Nancy’s prom dress, Amy’s wedding shoes, and Jill’s college thesis. Or why I am packing the complete set of formal dishes from the Jewish holidays we celebrated in our various homes, or the hodgepodge of old vases and huge pots I’ll probably never need again.
“The emotions didn’t go to college,” I remind him, as I cry over discarding some trifle.
And yet, there is one thing that has brought us comfort about this new home.
The address is 105. Our very first home: 105.
Perhaps this last move, difficult as it is, was truly meant to be.