Good-bye, Old House

by Barb, amid the boxes

The house

We’ve sold our Somerville, MA house. It closes (madly knocking wood) on August 3. There was a whirlwind one week period in which in went on the market, opened its doors for a broker’s lunch and three open houses and went under agreement. Now the real work begins.

People keep asking how I feel. I always answer, “This isn’t the house where I brought up my kids. It isn’t as emotional to leave it.” But even as I am saying the words, my chest tightens, my voice gets hoarse and tears spring to my eyes. Being a genius about my feelings, this gives me a clue that maybe I am lying.

But why should that be so? This house was a way station of middle age, neither the work-a-day family home, nor the retirement dream house. Then I realize that any place that forms the stage for more than a decade of our lives is going to burst with memories.

This is the house where we celebrated our first Christmas with our granddaughter and the last with Bill’s mother. It is the last house either of my parents will have ever visited me in.

Viola’s first visit

It’s the house where our son brought his daughter when she was two weeks old. The place he came when he returned from California before he left to hike the bottom half of the Appalachian Trail, and the place he returned from the trail before he left for New York.

It’s the place we collected all the bits and bobs and clothes and shoes for my daughter’s wedding. The place where we celebrated her graduation with her BA and then her MFA. The place she returned to after college, after New York, and after London, bringing stuff with her each time. (Hey Kate, come and get your stuff!)

It’s the place our cocker spaniel escaped from and we spent a night looking for him in a howling storm while he slept soundly at a kind neighbor’s house before going off to animal rescue in the morning, where he was chipped and returned, dry and rested, while we…

It is probably the last house where we will ever have owned a dog.

Christmas 2014, the happy chaos of the family Yankee book swap

It’s the place I moved into as a tech executive and left as a published author. The place my husband moved into as a political consultant and left as a photographer. The place we moved into as parents and left as grandparents. The place we moved into as someone’s child and left as orphans.

That’s a lot to pack into one little house.

Bill said yesterday, “Very few of our memories are tied to real estate.” He was right, of course. They’re tied to people. They’ll come with us when we go.

Readers: Tell me a moving story. Tell me it all turned out okay in the end.






71 Thoughts

  1. Lovely memories, Barb. And Bill is right – they’ll go along with you. I moved out of a house I’d lived in for 13 years, where my sons had grown from baby/toddler stage to middle school/high school years. While I didn’t mind leaving my husband one bit, it was painful for me the nights my sons still slept at the old house, especially at the start, as I’m sure it was hard for their father when my sons slept at my house. Both boys are the finest adult sons I could ever wish for, and I’ve found happiness, too. That turned out just fine.

    1. I’m sure the physical move was just one of many balls-in-the-air then. So nice to look back and be able to say it all turned out okay.

  2. No stories to share – we have lived in this house for 35 1/2 years – but I did enjoy your lovely collection of memories. Of course it will be all right. And good luck with the moving process.

  3. We moved and changed towns (40 minutes away) 2 years ago after 25 years in the same house. For us, it was time to downsize. We went from 1/2 acre treed lot with about 3000 sq.ft. Of living space to a condo bungalow on a golf course, about 1/2 the living space. I’ll admit I was terrified but I knew it was time — 40 bags of leaves each fall had taken it’s toll. It’s been great. I’ve joined 2 golf leagues, made new friends, and even found…on my street no less…a woman I had worked with in the 1980s — we’d had lunch together every day for 8 years! We’ve reconnected and become good friends. I thought I’d miss the old house, but I really don’t and I love that I can clean this house in a couple of hours AND that I use all the living space. Bill is right. Your memories aren’t in a house, they are in your heart. Good luck with your move.

  4. My family moved every two to three years while I was growing up, and the last place I lived with them was a post-WW2 apartment (hard to generate fond memories of that). Then college, and grad school, and marriage (lived in North Carolina and California in the early years). Which probably goes to explain why we lived for 15 years in our Pennsylvania house and fourteen in our current home: I wanted to stay in one place. Any house you live in, as you pointed out, Barb, becomes a part of you and your memories, no matter how you think you feel about it. But as I keep trumpeting to the world, my Irish cottage is the first place I’ve chosen, that’s unrelated to school or jobs or careers or family locations. It’s simply where I want to be, and that’s a luxury in our lives these days.

    1. I went to 9 schools in 9 years, which is probably why we lived in one place and our kids went through their school years in one school system.

      When the dust settles, we’ll look for our equivalent of the Irish cottage, though I don’t think it will be in Ireland!

  5. As an adult I’ve moved twice. Once into our first year of marriage rental – The Man was on a one-day business trip that day all our separated stuff came together. My dad, his dad, and his brother helped.

    A little more than a year later, we moved into the house we’d bought. He was again on a one-day business trip. Again, my dad, his dad, and his brother helped me.

    He’s been on exactly four business trips during our marriage.

    I told him that the next time we move, I’m walking out of this house with my toothbrush and the clothes on my back. He’s on his own to move it all and get it unpacked. πŸ™‚

    1. Laughing. Actually, I was on a business trip when Bill bought this house. He sent me videos from his phone, a heady idea in 2003.

  6. I haven’t moved yet – we’ve been in this house almost 20 years and I dread the day I have to move. It’s the only house I ever owned and the only one my kids have known. But I know the day will come – some day. Your house looks lovely, Barb. I’m sure it will all turn out in the end.

  7. We’re in the process of getting ready to do the same. We moved into this house in 1981, less than a year after we were married. We raised both our sons here so there are a lot of memories, but it’s time. We started building a log home in 2012 with the hopes of moving there someday and someday has arrived. Hubby has been approved for “frequent telework,” government-speak for telecommuting. He’ll still have to make the long commute to Pittsburgh once a week, so that will be an adjustment. We have a bit of cleaning out and selling and donating things before we put the house up for sale. It’s been a busy summer so far. For once, I’m thankful I don’t have a deadline at the moment!

  8. Barbara, I can relate so we’ll to your house and your move. husband retired we moved near to our daughter and her family, leaving behind all of the previous 24 years of memories in our house that we designed and built ourselves. I don’t think that there is a week that goes by that we don’t recall something memorable that happened during our time there, but we all know, life changes and we move on. I am glad to have had all of these memories along with the vast amount of still packed boxes from ten years ago which will mean great revived and revisited memories when they get opened someday. πŸ˜‹. Best of times in your next home. Will you still be here in MA?

  9. I have moved 35-40 times in my life. My father was in the Air Force; it was a way of life. When I grew up, I just kept moving from apartment to apartment then to condo. Now I’m in a house with lots of heavy furniture and too big for me to take care of and I’m getting itchy feet. Anyway, this is my advice: on moving day, have a roll of toilet paper in your purse. You can thank me later.

    1. Toothbrush in hand, clothes on my back, and toilet paper in my bookbag – plan appropriately adjusted. πŸ˜‰

    2. And remember, whenever you move in somewhere new, half the lightbulbs blow, so pack the box of lightbulbs in your car, not the moving van! (Good luck with the transition, Barb — and Bill!)

  10. Bravo on selling the house! I truly empathize with the difficulty leaving a house behind. Memories are tied both to people and place – after decades of moving, creating a home for a few years, integrating into a new community of church, schools, stores, and social activities, I was very envious of those around me who had planted deep, deep roots in a community. I was very ready to stay put for a while, and now have been steadily in my current house for five years. I am also realizing, however, that I need to develop an new trigger to assessing what I have and what needs to go. Moving always helped motivate a purge. πŸ™‚

    1. The last time this house was really clean, down to the closets and the eaves was when I was between jobs in 2006, so we have our work cut out for us.

  11. Barb, best of luck on the move. I wish you many lovely new memories in your new home.

    After a wacky, unsettled childhood and early adult life of domestic instability, I’ve lived most of the second half of my life in our wonderful Cincinnati home. Where I raised my three daughters–the only home two of them have known–where I’ve had three businesses, where we have hosted a jillion family dinners, memorials for relatives who’ve died, engagement parties, rehearsal dinner, birthday parties galore, epic Halloween and holiday parties, and many get-togethers of all kinds. The walls of this lovely little house that I have so lovingly cared for are saturated with happy (and some bittersweet) memories, and lots and lots of love.

    But now we are preparing to move, hopefully into a new home where we can age in place with a lot less worry about potential health issues, to combine our home and my husband’s dwindling business as he winds it down. Our kids are sad, and worried that we won’t be able to remember all those good times. However, I find myself ready to make a change, and to forge new memories. And I’m looking forward to creating a new space for our family to share love.

    1. We think about aging in place, too, though we are undecided if the next house is our last house or our second-to-last and we have one more fixer-upper in us.

  12. Barb, what a heart-felt, moving post! I got a bit teary-eyed reading it! Adjusting to a new normal is always a challenge. Working through a new normal in housing while grappling with feelings of loss is even more of one. I think you and Bill are in for a satisfying new adventure, even if it doesn’t feel that way quite yet.

    1. Thank you, Jessie. My business partner always used to say, “you should always move toward something, not away from something.” We haven’t quite turned that corner yet, but I’m sure we will.

  13. What a beautiful story — I have tears in my eyes. As a military wife you quickly learn that it’s about the people not the place. I can’t wait to see where you land next.

  14. There are milestones and memories wherever we squat. I get teary even when we leave vacation spots. The other day I blew kisses to the apartment in Provence where we created new memories and discovered we were still young at heart. Your story about Old House is touching. But what I want to know is, where are you going? What’s next? Where will you create new memories and are you excited?

    1. Hi Michele–You are my inspiration! The answer is–TBD. For once in our lives, I’m determined to sell before we buy–or rent. I’ve spent too many sleepless nights worrying about owning two houses or bridge loans or whatever. We’ll go to Maine in the meantime, while we determine what to do about that place…

  15. I stayed in our first house for a year after my husband died and then a friend and realtor convinced me that I needed a fresh start. I left behind some wonderful memories–bringing our second daughter home there, many family Christmases that we hosted, etc.–but I left sad ones, too. Our new home turned out to be perfect for the “new” us, and I was very thankful.

    1. They always say not to make quick decisions after big life and death events. It sounds like you handled your move in the best possible way.

  16. Barb, As always your story made me laugh and cry…I have no stories our safe advice having lived in my home for 30 years with no plans to move as long as I can do the stairs.
    But, really no more dogs? I would be sadder about having no pets than moving…and I have a dog in my tiny condo…granted she’s tiny too!!!
    Good luck with your move and may you make many new, happy memories in your new home…wherever and whatever it may be.

    1. Thank you.

      The dog thing has really been a life-style thing. We’ve been so unsettled the last few years, and traveling so much, it wouldn’t be fair. Maybe someday if we consolidate into (more or less) one place…

  17. I get it; I do. Just remember your husband is right, the memories come with you. And you’ll still be making new memories in the places where you live after this house is nothing but a memory.

  18. We left a house after 26 years and I have no attachment to it at all but, like you, I have wonderful memories of people and events. Our current house captured our hearts from the beginning and I enjoy it every day, It is a modest home but suits our personalities and has a wonderful personality of its own. I have memories of doing my public health nursing experience in Somerville.

    1. I am so happy to hear that the house that captured your heart from the beginning is something you enjoy everyday. I always feel like you need to emotionally resonate with a house.

  19. After my Dad died my Mom sold the house and 3 1/2 acres of land it was on and moved back to town. I had not lived in the house for many years but it was really difficult for me. My Dad had built the house (as he had the other 2 I’d lived in as a child) and I had helped with some of the last stages. It was, of course, the right move for my Mom but initially all I could think of was how my brothers and brother-in-law had helped with the build and all the wonderful family moments we had there. It took a while to adjust and realize that I still had all of the memories of the build and all the wonderful times we had there as a family. We still gathered for the holidays and made new memories in town.

  20. Love it and I am choking up. We are seriously considering leaving this house, where we have been for 23 years. It entered our lives in a time of hope and trial. Over the years, it has been mostly trial. Recently, it has seen more hope.It was where we owned dogs as a family and , like you, the last one where we will have a dog, more than likely.It is the home where we welcomed our grandchildren and the only home one knew for years and felt as his safe-place. The one where I planted trees and flowers to my heart’s content.One where the trees over-grew and the kids grew as they climbed them.Now, we’ll be looking for little-to-no yard. I had not realized until we seriously started thinking of leaving how much we put into this house, but we are taking our books, our pictures and the things dearest to us. e and the cats will make a place elsewhere and the family will come where we go. God bless your new house!

  21. Barb, what a wonderful story of memories in this house that you shared with us! But the house is just a house and the memories you shared are of home – which you’ll take with you to all other houses after this one. We seem to have a history of staying in our houses for 12-13 years and then moving again for the “last” time. We’ve done that three times. We moved into our current home a little over 4 years ago, downsized somewhat to a cape cod where we can do all our daily living on one floor with no steps!! We don’t do steps well anymore so we save that for our guest visits. Our last two moves have been the most emotional because we relocated 300+ miles each time to a new community where we had to find new churches, doctors, etc. and make new friends. Our next to the last move was from metro Atlanta GA (natives) to Nashville TN in 2000 where we’d found my husband’s dream place “in the country” with 7.5 acres. About half-way in, life changed with physical issues and that big house and all that land was hard to manage. We moved all the way across the state 300+ miles last time to a much smaller community with just under an acre property. Is this our last house?? Probably, since we chose a house and community where we could age in place and we’ll be 69 soon. On the other hand, we find ourselves missing our friends and church in Nashville. So who knows? I do know we’ll never live anywhere we can’t have our pets (cats/dogs) and that we don’t have the desire to remodel another house. Time will tell….We’ve done the move first, sell later a few times and had company transfer buyouts so we’ve never sold a house before we had the next one lined up. That sounds like quite an adventure that I’m sure will inspire another book from you, YEAH! Keep us updated on your journey, good luck and best of times ahead! “Bo”

    1. Bo, I understand! When we moved here from a place only two towns away, I kept my doctor, dentist, hairdresser. Replacing all of that seems daunting. But then, my doctors is older than me, so he’ll probably retire soon anyway. Leaving close proximity to family seems even harder. Not sure what we’ll ultimately decide.

  22. Lovely story, Barb. I hope wherever you move you make new and wonderful memories. I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t mind moving. I’ve lived anywhere from a few months to 14 years in a variety of apartments, condos, and houses in very tiny towns to huge cities. And I’ve enjoyed most of them. There is only one house that I didn’t want to move out of. We only lived there 3 1/2 years and I had put a lot of love, time, sweat equity, and money into it making it just the way we wanted it to be. Unfortunately, times changed, jobs dried up and we had to move to another state. I think the hardest part was we really didn’t like the buyers. They were brash, rude, and disparaging of the house. They were just trying to get the price down. I felt they would soon undo all the good things we had done. Of course, they had the right to do that, but I could never drive by the house again because I was afraid of what I would see. We’ve moved again since then when we retired. We love where we are and hope to be able to stay here forever. However, there are steps everywhere so there may well be another move in store at some point in the future. The memories move with us.

  23. Wonderful move, Barb. You’ve had the opportunity to live in busy, interesting Davis Square. Now, after a nice hiatus, you can look forward to making deep memories somewhere else. We’ve had six well-loved homes, with a collection of lifelong memories in each. We’re ready to down-size again now. (We MEANT to do that on the last two houses, but I guess we forgot – here we sit today in another 1880 Victorian!) The inventory of smaller homes is so tight in our town center – where we want to be – we are thinking this time that we’ll buy first as soon as one becomes available and then sell this house. Our last transaction – seven or eight years ago – we sold first and rented for a year. Just not sure I’m up for the double move again and it may be a long wait for the right smaller house. May change our minds. Still in process! Good luck on the moving process – always an exciting challenge!

  24. What a beautiful post, Barb. Brought tears to my eyes. I always complain about L.A., but I won’t even talk about where we’ll go after because I know it won’t be here. There’s no such thing as downsizing in a town this expensive. So when my husband brings it up… I just pretend we’re not having the conversation.

    1. I understand, Ellen. For the same reason, my husband and I understand if we leave Boston, we’re never coming back. Which makes the decision all the weightier.

  25. I moved a year ago today. One of the big requirements I had for a new house was a yard my dog couldn’t escape from. You may recall my many Facebook posts about my dog escaping the yard at my old house All The Time. Well, it’s been a year and … my dog has escaped the new yard only once, when the gate broke. This house has been such a relief.

  26. Leaving a memory-laden home is a milestone. You will soon have new memories marking your life and love. Fortunately, you GET to do this–You will be able to say “Remember when…”

  27. *The place we moved into as someone’s child and left as orphans.* This sentence especially plucked my heart strings, Barb. When we were packing to move to Michigan in 2009, I was on the verge of tears for weeks even though I was looking forward to the move and the new home. I told myself it was because we were moving so far from Tennessee. But after cleaning and packing, as I was taking a last look around, I noticed the cabinets my dad and I had revarnished, the carport where he and I painted shelves, the load of rocks we had dumped from his truck bed around the shrubs in front of the house. Everywhere I looked, I was flooded with memories of my daddy, who had passed away in 2006. As I left for the last time, I picked up a very ordinary rock from beside the front steps and took it with me. I don’t really miss that house, but I miss my dad every day.

  28. Barb, I loved your post. Downsizing from my Hingham home to Boston 18 years ago was a huge chore. I had lived there for 26 years. Moved in before my daughter was born and when my son was 3. I loved my neighborhood and friends there and love where I live in Boston. Plus, my friends in Paris, London & Prague would not have been interested in swapping for a home in the suburbs. I had to laugh about your message to Kate. My daughter, happily living & working in Boston at the time, gave permission to give away or pack up what was left in her room. My son took care of his stuff. People told me that there would be something that I discarded that I would miss. Luckily, the only thing I can think of is a devilled egg serving dish. Who knew that they would become popular again? And are especially good served with another hors d’oeuvre – your recipe of candied bacon.

  29. May all go well — get help for the heavy lifting. I’ve said a fond farewell to every home, no matter how humble, and found myself happy in each new one. Hugs <3

  30. I’ve got tears in my eyes. So many happy memories, most recently a wonderful day spent with my great-niece. BBQs, holidays, celebrations. Ma downstairs, in the kitchen or in her chair. Your homes in Newton & Somerville have always felt like anchor places for me. And the raucous Yankee CD (later book) swaps. Tears in my eyes. Please don’t go too far…

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