I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner last week the same way I have enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner for all but one of my past 40+ years -- at my parents' house. There was one year in which I temporarily lost my mind and decided to host the meal myself. Thankfully, I regained my senses and that never happened again.
My mom and dad have lived in the same house on Old Orchard Drive practically since the day I was born. There was something about being there this year that felt different, however. It wasn't just the newly refinished hardwood floor and a new look for the old coffee table. It wasn't the fact that my mom didn't make her traditional lettuce with bacon dressing (which I never liked anyway), or that I discovered there have always been onions in the filling (not to be confused with stuffing). No, this year was different in the way I saw my childhood home. It was as if I was looking at it from outside myself. Like I was seeing it through the many stages of my life and my parents' lives. Alright, I can't put it into words. Just work with me.
I'm sure the loss we experienced in 2013 was a major contributor to the "visions" I had on Thursday. Most of you know that two of my aunts, my mom's sisters and best friends, passed away within six months of each other. And other older relatives dealt with their share of health-related issues. These experiences were an unwelcome reminder of my parents' age, a fact of life that many of my friends are also facing. While I generally prefer to ignore all the signs that tell me they won't live forever, my parents are pretty matter of fact about their stage of life. For years, my dad has had a hand-written letter prepared with his "wishes," along with a "guest list" of names of those who are to be invited to his funeral (you better not piss him off if you want to make the cut). He's currently working on handcrafted wooden boxes for the cremated ashes of my mom's two living sisters, and I think my mom has put in a request for hers as well. Yes, it's definitely becoming harder to ignore.
In light of this new reality I'm being forced to acknowledge, everything at "home" came with layers of meaning and memories this year. I didn't just pull a glass from the cupboard. Instead I opened the cupboard and noticed the variety of glasses and recalled them being in those very same locations 30 years ago. It meant trying to remember if those Philadelphia Eagles glasses were a collector set from the supermarket or the gas station. It meant looking at the characters on those colorful kiddie cups and having no clue who they are. This year, there was more than a touch of nostalgia in the selection of serving dishes and trivets.
This year, playing Monopoly with Ian and my sister wasn't just about beating her as payback for more than a decade of Monopoly abuse. This year there was something sentimental about how worn the board and the money had become from years of use. There were memories of painting the little green houses and gluing them to a poster board for a school project. There was the annual reminder from my mom that she hates playing board games because I never gave her a break from them when I was a kid.
Though every room on the main floor of my parents' ranch home has been redecorated since I moved out
nearly 20 years ago, the basement is exactly as I left it. The same wood paneling and the bar that my dad built. The old fashioned ice cream table and chairs that had been my grandparents'. The same archery trophies on the shelves. The same muzzle loader and deer antlers on the wall, albeit with a couple new deer and fox skins. The same furniture, including the couch that Rob and I destroyed with a few years worth of premarital snuggling. The same gazillion-page Volume Library from 1977. It was like stepping back in time.
More than just the flashback of memories, I found myself wondering, "What will we do with all of this when the time comes?" My ever-prepared dad has given me directions for a number of things, but what about the rest of it? Will I ever be able to get rid of that dish, this game, those photos, that table, this bed, those records? I'm fairly confident that I'll be able to toss the plastic floor plant and that useless downstairs couch, but what about the hundreds of other little things that each hold some kind of meaning? I was both nostalgic and miserable just thinking about it.
Hopefully I'll have my parents for another 20 years and I won't have to deal with any of this for a very long time. For now, I'm just thankful to have a childhood home filled with countless good memories.