Josna Rege

502. Farewell, Old House!

In Aging, Family, places, reflections, seasons, Stories on August 31, 2021 at 11:10 pm

It was on a night like this, in late August thirty-one years ago, with the cicadas and katydids in full-throated chorus and grasshoppers and crickets abounding, that Andrew, Nikhil, and I slept in our new house for the first time, bedding down together on the floor in the same bedroom while the other rooms were being painted. (I say ‘new’ because it was new to us, but the house was already 75 years old when we first moved in.) The following week Nikhil was to start kindergarten in a new school and a new town. Tonight, on the verge of selling our old house and of starting a new academic year that might well be my last, it feels like a time of endings—or at least, of tying up loose ends.  

On the morning of his first day of kindergarten Nikhil insisted that Andrew light a small fire in the fireplace so that he could toast a marshmallow. We couldn’t have done that in our old house because we only had a woodstove. Over the next few years Andrew collected the sap of the maple trees in the back yard and boiled it down to make maple syrup; he set up a cider press and he and Nikhil made apple-and-pear cider. The following year Andrew’s parents bought the house next door and moved back from California, and two years later my parents moved  to a house less than two miles down the road. A huge expanse of woods across the street, the Amethyst Brook Conservation Area, made up for the loss of our old country life in Winchendon, and over the years we hiked and biked and built dams and played Poohsticks there.

Out back, Andrew built a large raised-bed garden with a blueberry patch. Over the years he grew everything, strawberries, potatoes, garlic, hot peppers, butternut squash, and even corn, before he lost the long war with the woodchucks. A vine of Concord grapes sprawled over the old foundation to the south of the house and he made grape juice, grape jelly, and stuffed grape leaves. Now wild blackberries and black raspberries have overgrown his extensive earthworks, along with the pervasive poison ivy that has dug in and taken over.

The house became a gathering place for friends and extended family on both sides. Every birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Ukrainian Christmas (two weeks later), Ukrainian Easter, and not to forget those dissertation defense parties, we put both flaps in the trusty old dining table and brought out all the folding chairs while everyone contributed a dish to the feast. In the summers we had outdoor parties, with music, badminton, basketball, and massive quantities of food. In the winters, fast and furious games of darts, tiddlywinks, and Running Demons, endless movie nights, and those very welcome snow days when I curled up in bed with a book and a bottomless cup of tea while Andrew shoveled us all out.

The house also became a gathering place for Nikhil’s friends. Play dates, sleepovers, study sessions, parties, heart-to-hearts. In those years, young people continually flowed in and out, chattering, laughing, eating, eating some more. Parents came to pick them up and lingered to chat with us as the friends said their long goodbyes, unable to tear themselves away from each other.

I can’t count the number of times friends came over for tea (Lopchu Darjeeling), when I made scones (never as good as Mum’s) and salmon cakes. For parties my speciality was a large pot of chhole–chickpea curry–and an equally large batch of pullao rice with peas, topped with caramelized onions and roasted cashews.

In mid-August Andrew’s father Ted would remind us of the Perseid meteor showers. One memorable night we all rose in the wee hours and walked over to the field across the street where Ted sat on a folding chair and the rest of us lay on our backs on blankets, gazing up at the heavens.

Andrew’s dear mother Anna would invite us to dinner one night a week so that I didn’t have to cook. In later years her health didn’t allow her to be as active as she would have loved to be, but every Saturday she would go down to the farmer’s market on the Town Common and bring us back bean sprouts and Chinese vegetables from the Chang family farm. She soon made friends with the owners of the Greek pizza place round the corner where they would sell her trays of frozen spanakopitas at the wholesale price and send home a bag of Greek pita bread for her grandson. At the Asian grocery story two doors down she must have been the most faithful customer. She  provided Nikhil with a steady supply of nori, paper-thin sheets of dried seaweed, for his school lunchbox. When the store had to close Anna came close to buying up their entire stock. When Nikhil grew tired of me on some tirade or the other he would slip out and over to his Grandma Anna’s, where I would find him in her kitchen watching Emeril or re-runs of The Galloping Gourmet.

When I think of the old farmhouse I will forever remember my father’s words whenever he came over. After browsing the bookshelves he would settle in with a good book and a cup of tea, looking up to survey the contours of the place with his architect’s eye and to pronounce, “This is a good house.” Mum, accustomed to being the hard-working host, would ask what she could do to help and when I insisted that there was nothing to do, would give herself over to the rare pleasure of being fussed over and waited on.

Now that stage of our lives is long over and only the memories linger. Fireflies on a summer’s night will always remind me of the quiet of our old back yard. But on this last night of August, as I prepare for my first day of fall teaching and we prepare to pass the house on to a young family, I can hear the chorus of cicadas and katydids at our new house, and feel in my bones the effort it has taken us to sort and clear the accumulation of thirty-one years. It’s the longest I have ever lived in one place and surely, at this point, the longest I ever will. Along with the inevitable pangs will also come a strong sense of relief: that’s done at last. Farewell, old house!

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. What wonderful memories, brought to life with your beautiful writing!

  2. Dear Jojo Congratulations to you and Andrew. You must be so relieved the house has finally been sold albeit this must have tugged at your heartstrings given all the memories that you must hold so dear. 31 years is, indeed, a very long time to have lived in one place. Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your and Andrew’s labour xxx

    • Savita! Such a nice surprise to see your comment here! To tell you the truth, at the eleventh hour the buyers asked for a week’s delay, so we’re still in limbo. But that gives us this weekend to remove the last few things from the house, shed, and garden. You are right that it will be a tremendous relief. Thank you for your reminder to sit back and savo(u)r it. xo J

      • That’s a pity but I see the delay as a blessing in disguise in terms of more time to shift the rest of your stuff. The very best of luck and well done …. xxx

        • Thanks, Savita, and you’re quite right–especially since I had to start teaching yesterday. This coming weekend is a bank holiday weekend, so it will give us a bit more time to wrap everything up. Love, J

  3. I hope you will have as many lovely memories in your new place as you’ve had in the one you are leaving, though of course they will be of a different order. I hope you’ll update us on how things proceed!

    • Thank you for your sweet comment and good wishes, Chris. We did things backwards: moved first, and then took three whole years to clear out the old house and finally get it ready to go up for sale. So we have had time to settle into the new house and aren’t having to deal with the upheaval of moving at the same time. And I promise to keep telling stories–as long as I can still write!

      • Yes, I was evidently confused as I thought you’d already done your move, and then I wondered if I’d missed something you’d posted when I had one of my periodic hiatus in assiduously reading every blog post bloggers I follow had posted! Now it all makes sense… 🙂

        • No, you were right, and hadn’t missed anything. But I am going to have to start some assiduous reading, because I’ve fallen woefully behind on the posts of the bloggers I follow. Just read three of yours today and realized how much I had missed. Now that I know you’ve been re-reading The Lord of the Rings, I want to share this lovely post written just the other day by Brian Sibley, a writer whose blog I follow:

        • Thank you for the link, that was a delight to read; and I’m reminded again how I regret being unable to catch all but the odd episode when either this or — more probably — The Hobbit was first broadcast on the radio.

          Yes, reciprocal blogging is a Sisyphean commitment and a pitiless taskmaster, but then that’s both a curse and a benefit of being interconnected, isn’t it? 🙂 O tempora, o mores!

  4. Beautiful memory of a well loved and lived house home.

    • Thank you, Kristin. You must have comparable memories many times over of the houses you made your home in when you and your children were young. Most of your blog posts that I’ve read tell stories about the much more distant past, but perhaps you will write more, set in the seventies and eighties.

  5. Hari OM
    Well, that was a delightful read, full of the love and poignancy befitting the end of one chapter and the arrival of another. It appeared in my reading just as my siblings and I have put our late father’s home on the market, it having been scoured and repainted and the accumulation of 40+ years all moved on. One comes to understand how the building has been a witness… All the best for you place! YAM xx

    • So you understand very well, YAM, how this piece arose. You must have gone through something similar with your siblings, only more so. I like what you said about the building having been a witness. Thank you for your good wishes and your reminder that this is not so much an ending but the beginning of a new chapter. x J

  6. Loved this piece Josna

    • Oh thank you, Ratna! I was just thinking about you and wondering about your plans. Hope you’re keeping safe and that your family are all well. xo J

  7. Such a sweet farewell reflection, Josna!!
    You and Andrew are already well on your way to warming your lively new home. I am happy you have not gone far so I can share many new moments with you both!!

    • Thank you, dear Anna. I will never forget you arriving, fully aproned and bandanna-ed, mop in hand and ready to help with the final cleaning the night before the house went on the market. I hope that in a couple of weeks we’ll be able to have a little celebration together. I too am glad that we haven’t gone far. x J

  8. Beautiful reflection as always! Your old house will always be a landmark as we travel west through Amherst. By the way, I have been following along and enjoying your posts for months but unable to comment because always reading on my phone and could not remember my username. Just a doddering old woman with too many email accounts *sigh*.

    • If you are a doddering old woman, Norah, then I’m a monkey’s uncle! Proud to be in your company! I too can’t comment on my phone–in fact, I can’t even do FB on my phone for that same reason! Robert, too, has made his mark on the old house. Just a few days ago, after the town inspector came by and pronounced the smoke and CO detectors A-OK, we were silently thanking him and remembering all the work he has done there over the years. xxo

  9. And the day after tomorrow we will close on our now empty home of over 25 years in Cambridge. I’ve had the same thought that I will likely not live anywhere else for so long. A time of new beginnings. A bittersweet moment.

    • Mazel Tov, dear Linda! I remember when you first moved in, sleeping over with you there, and you babysitting Nikhil there. And now, to a new but familiar neighborhood with old and close friends and lots of space for your grandchildren. May your time there be long, happy, and healthy!

      • Thanks, Josna. But I babysat for Nikhil on Waldo Ave. where I lived until 1988. I moved into Peters St. in Jan. 1996. I suspect you stayed over at both those places.

        • Ah, yes, Linda, of course you were still at the storied Waldo Ave. back then! Don’t remember staying over at Waldo, but that sure was a long time ago! xo J

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