Josna Rege

Posts Tagged ‘selling our house’

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 also 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 store 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!

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