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From mother to gypsy

Saying goodbye to the home where I raised my children.
By Meg Barnhouse
8.10.09

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yard sale (Jim Jurica/iStockphoto)

(Jim Jurica/iStockphoto)

“Start in the kitchen,” said the administrator at the church where I’ve been the minister for many years. “Leave yourself one pot, one frying pan, three plates, and three glasses. Pack everything else.”

She is a born organizer, so I contemplated doing what she said. As you know, contemplation, even for several days in a row, does not get the job done. My stacks of plates, bowls, spoons, and knives sat sturdily in their places, as they had since my children were in elementary school.

The family is beginning a new chapter. My partner and I are now living hundreds of miles away from the boys, who are safely occupied with college and medical school. We have left the South and moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where I’ve been called to serve another congregation. We have imagined a life where we will live simply, do our work, ride our bikes, swim, and breathe in and out, where friends and family can come visit, but where the daily rhythm is the rhythm of two. What do two people, living lightly, need with more than a few plates, six forks, six spoons?

How do you go from mother to gypsy? How do you go from frying pan to feather on the breath of God? What will we need to take with us, I wondered. Do I take my blue-and-white charms my best friend brought from Greece that protect against the evil eye? Do they even have the evil eye in New Jersey? Never mind. Scratch that question. I packed it.

We didn’t want any of the old coffee mugs any more, we didn’t want the forks and spoons, we wouldn’t need power tools or extra bed frames in our new life, so we had a Big Giant Yard Sale. The oldest folks came first, taking a squint at all of our power tools, garden tools, extension cords, bikes, and bed frames. They scored most of the good stuff for prices I would not have agreed to if I’d already had my coffee. The crowd got younger and less canny as the morning wore on. Last came the dilettantes, the amateurs who bargained half-heartedly and loaded up their loot in cars that were not quite big enough for what they’d bought. After the Big Giant Yard Sale you could almost tell the garage was somewhat emptier.

After that we sold things on Craigslist. When we couldn’t sell any more, we put up ads in the category of “free stuff.” I hit the “send” button on the computer to post the ad, which read: “Anyone who comes and gets everything from the basement and the garage gets to keep whatever they find,” and within four minutes I had ten people wanting to come over with pickup trucks. I called the first guy who emailed. He came and cleaned out the basement. The second person who emailed came with her daughters and her dad and cleaned out the garage. They got good stuff and we got good space. It was a fine trade.

My boys have their own house now. The older one got married this summer to a gem of a human being, and they all three live together. Now my grandfather’s precious grandfather clock is keeping time for them. They are eating off of Grandmother’s china. The Shiraz carpet is glowing softly on their floor. Heirlooms have been passed down.

Deep questions swirl around the moving process: What is important to keep? What is trash? What about our attachments to things by reason of family or sweetness of memory? How do you give away the Scrabble game you all had so much fun playing in those nights years past, arguing over whether the rules should be changed this time to allow only words human beings actually use. How do you give away the Scruples game during which you realized that this girl was going to be the one your older son would marry? How do you throw away the small sock you found under your younger son’s bed, when he’s now six-feet-five-inches tall and never will be small again? How do you let go of those times? How do you let the mighty oak you were as a parent be uprooted by the slow tornado of time? How do you acknowledge that this pain is what happens to those who are luckiest, and that if it did not happen you would have a larger set of sorrows?

This new lightness I’m after feels like the outward manifestation of an inward evolution. In not being any more the kind of mother who is needed immediately and daily, I have left behind the crammed house of responsibility. I see the warm light from its windows as I look back over my shoulder. Laughter rings out from the porch. Someone is catching lightning bugs in the front yard.

My love and I are walking down the road. That house is not for us right now. We carry what we can lift and no more. It’s time for a new perspective. Out of my back pocket peeks a small white sock.

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