I cried…a lot. I’m comfortable enough with myself to admit it; I was an emotional wreck. Last Tuesday we finally signed off on my parent’s property. After nearly 60 years, the place on North Smith Pike in Bloomington, Indiana has a new owner. Two actually.
My father, “Pop” as we affectionally called him, passed away back in 1998. Mom made her journey to her new home last year. Since that time, my sister and I have been working toward selling their homestead. Now the deed is done.
It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was traumatic for me. Why? Well, sit back and I will tell you why. I was born on that ground in an old farmhouse that’s now pushing about 100 years of life. I learned to walk there. I learned to ride my bicycle. I helped plant gardens, fed the cows, watched my dad butcher them and basically learned at his feet every day how to live life and how to treat others. In case you didn’t know it, my dad was pretty much an expert at everything. He was without a doubt, my hero; that is until I watched Mom continue on, strong and straight for 17 more years and I discovered why they were so good together. They were, in a word, the best.
Dad taught me to fish in our 1 acre farm pond. And in return, I taught the neighbor boys to do the same. We learned how to shoot guns and how to respect the rights of others. But maybe one of the most significant things is that those 50 acres are where I learned to ride motorcycles. pop wheelies, race through the woods, cross creeks on one wheel, jump fallen logs and paddle through mud. The very core and life blood of my life, the founding experiences that made me what I am today, were formed and developed on that patch of dirt.
At the age of 14 or so, Mom decided she wanted a new house so Dad built her one. And I helped. It’s not that I volunteered or anything like that. It was just a different time. I lived there and I was expected to help. Dad didn’t ask and I didn’t question it; if he was working, so was I. Mom and Dad always wanted me to have the house because I helped build it. I wish it were that simple. I wish it could have been…but it was just not to be.
Nearly every important memory of my life is tied to that ground. I was not only raised there, but I raised my family there too. In 1997, my wife Lori and I built our first home together on that same patch of Earth. It was perfect timing, as that winter my father discovered he had terminal brain cancer. We were able to be close and help he and Mom right up until the day he told us all goodbye.
Lori and I moved to Louisville in 2012 for work. It was a wise move financially. We sold our home that we had built on Mom and Pop’s place a couple years later. I know it was hard on our kids. It was the only home they knew together. Yet, as long as Mom was alive, we were all still able to visit the property, walk the fields, enjoy the pond. But now…well, now it’s all gone for good.
I arrived about 5 hours early for the closing this past Tuesday. I spent the morning by myself walking the fields, staring at the pond and swinging on the porch swing. I saw ghosts and heard the voices of my past. It was highly emotional. I began talking to my cousin Tom, who lives in Florida, because I knew he would be able to identify with the feelings. Not only did he have to sell his parent’s place, but we were close as children so he spent a lot of time growing up with me on our property.
Later, I sent a lone picture of the empty porch swing to my wife, Lori. Her response was, “Do you hear anyone whistling.” That just about broke me. In fact, it is breaking me now, just thinking about it. My mother was a whistler. And the porch swing was her spot. After my dad died, Lori was outside one day helping me mow their grass. As she came around the corner to their back porch, she swears she saw Pop sitting in the porch swing, looking the place over, with an approving smile that said, “Thanks for taking care of Momma and the place. It will all be okay.” They say you marry your mother and that must be at least partly true; my mother was spiritually creepy…and so is my wife!
Letting go of the land and house Tuesday was like saying goodby to my parents all over again…only this time for the last time. It was like letting go of an entire lifetime of memories, all of the things that made me the person I am today. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life. As I walked the property for the last time, I talked with my parents. I told them how sorry I was for my failures, how sorry I was for not being able to keep their home in the family and how grateful I was for having them as my guiding influence.
As much as we would like it to be so, life does not allow us to stand still for long. We are all forced to keep moving, to keep changing. All we can do is embrace the memories and help our children and grandchildren build new ones, right up until that day when we take our final walk and leave it to them to carry one.
Goodbye Mom and Pop, until we meet again Further on up the Road.