On Moving Day, the Past Comes Along


We are moving. It was 11 years ago, on Lincoln's Birthday, that we moved into this house. My daughter became 4 that spring and her baby brother 1. It would be four more years, again in the spring, that my younger boy would be born, and it would be eight and a half years from that moving time that my father would die. I was still in my 20's then, and it was the first time I owned and lived in a house.

The bliss of that spring - to own land, trees, shrubs. The camellia bush with its outrageous blossoms in April --- we didn't even know what it was. And then lilac, azalea and the irises of June. Each in its own sweet time bloomed to an inner clock. My husband became a gardener, a planter and grower.

And now we are going on. Compelled, propelled by demands we were unaware of 11 years ago - a need for space, privacy for each family member, the security of a homogenous middle class community that boasts above all good schools, and the luxuries of maturity like a two-car garage that opens automatically, central air-conditioning, three bathrooms, and a dressing room for me.

I descend to our basement to start the process of packing, moving on. A figurative as well as literal descent into things stored away. Recent things like playbills from last year and maps from our vacation in Bucks County get filed with their counterparts of a further past. I uncover my children's history -- already they have a past: outgrown clothes, artistic efforts saved by a mother who cannot bear to discard such things, birthday cards in chronological descent to birth announcements, and the books I prepared with their family trees when each was born.

Further back, among my wedding souvenirs, I find a ruled seating plan in my father's extravagant hand. The swollen ribbon-tied packet of letters are to and from my husband when he was in the Army and we were engaged. And back again yet are school things - college term papers, programs from the shows I performed in, even gold-starred report cards from P.S.177. Such a pile! I cannot bear to throw out a shred. They will all go on with me from this house to the next, the very baggage of myself.

I am ruthless in the disposition of accumulated. “things.” Onto the garage-sale pile go the unused appliances, last year's popular books, clothes no longer fashionable. I want to move light, unencumbered to this new house, to have physical space and clarity.

But the past is permanent and comes along into the moving trucks. The images of 11 years stored in the boxes-of our minds travel with us: bottles and high chairs giving way to bicycles and roller skates; Jennifer in a white rabbit coat and hat, Freddy in the tartan plaid shorts and vest we brought back from Bermuda, Ian in his red snowsuit like a bright winter bird; the birthday parties always in the spring on the back lawn; the traditional first graders' visit to our garden where my husband would tell the children how things grow and give them sunflower seeds; the seemingly eternal driving down and around the roads of the neighborhood through
changing seasons and times as nursery-school car pools gave way to dancing school and Hebrew school and Scouts and, teams; the delicate glow of my daughter's bat mitzvah, and how my father died in the blaze of October when the light was too brilliant to see.

Kitty-wit, the, beautiful calico cat we got that first spring chasing the butterflies is another image, and the way she looked at us with astonishment each time we discovered one of the six litters she had in such places as my husband's shirt drawer or on top of a clean pile of laundry (but never in the basket we prepared for her).

Unforgettable too are the agonies of childhood illness, the anxiety-filled sleepness nights as we sponged away the high fevers, and how childhood fears of abandonment to dark sleep would be verbalized in the plaintive cries of “Mommy, tuck me in” or “Can I have apple juice?” just as I sat down with a book after a long day.

We pack up,the seasons and stuff of a family. From every corner of a house well lived in come the treasures of our days. Wrapped in tissue paper and enclosed in cardboard, the most amorphous and most permanent thing of all -- the time of our lives -- is ready to come along to a new address.