The other day while waiting at a traffic light at one of our city’s busiest intersections, I watched one of those huge United or Allied Van Lines trucks cross in front of me from the opposite direction. As it made its way down the highway after gingerly maneuvering through the intersection, I thought immediately about what might likely be in that enormous moving van — quite possibly the lifetime possessions of a family either coming to town or leaving to start a new life elsewhere.
I remember how exciting it was when we moved to our new house in the suburbs of New Orleans in 1961. It was a brand-new, brick house with big bay windows and a small front porch, nestled among live oak trees. What a thrill for a ten-year-old to witness the movers unloading our furniture and boxes into this grand new “home.” That was more than 60 years ago. I can hardly believe it. I recall to this day the “new house” smell inside. We had witnessed the entire construction process, and trips out to the house when it was being built were always anticipated and enjoyed.
That was the big moving day I remember from my youth. My parents lived there 31 years. After my father died in 1992, my mother sold the house about a year later and moved to Charleston, marking the end of an era. I lived in that new house for seven years, but when you are young, it seemed an endless expanse of time, flowing by as I endured the trials and tribulations of adolescence and the passage from elementary school through junior high and on to high school. I was in the class of 1969.
Moving days after that were much less formal affairs. In the years after college, I lived first in an old and timeless boarding house in Columbia, SC, in a upstairs room filled with antique furniture. The move from New Orleans to Columbia the summer after college consisted of driving off to my future in a fully packed yellow Volkswagen convertible with a red, ten-speed bike strapped on the back.
As I got a bit more settled and acquired some furniture, my next big move involved renting a Ryder truck, and, with the help of my best friends, loading up and heading for North Carolina. I remember the morning of that momentous move, starting early in the day with a stop at McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin, hash browns, orange juice and coffee. This transition was a major milestone because it marked the first move to a town and job that involved notably more responsibilities in my chosen profession of journalism. The small college town where I worked was idyllic, but the job turned out to be short-lived, and I returned to South Carolina just eight months later, considerably older and wiser, but still idealistic and more than a bit apprehensive about continuing in newspaper work.
What followed during the 1980s was a long odyssey of graduate school, teaching, traveling the country and wandering in and out of employment as I seemed doggedly determined, or fated, to remain without a stable job or anchorage for the rest of my life, without that place to truly call “home.” I didn’t find it until 1995, in my mid-forties. Now, at 71, I cannot even conceive of how I, of all people, survived that personal diaspora of continual upheaval and uprootedness in search of one final place to settle down.
Being single and never having had a family, it was easy in one sense to move because I could give away all my furniture and belongings and start over from scratch with a car full of my history and material legacy in papers and books.
Tonight, as I again think about that huge moving van, I am reminded how different my life has been from those who owned their own homes, furnished them, and raised families in them. I always rented and had a minimal amount of furniture. But I can say for certain that whatever form my single, solitary moves took, and whatever the goal or lack of one, they were equally momentous and life-changing events. I like to think I enjoyed my fair share of freedom in between the times of despondency and uncertainty. Moving day, no matter what, always signified hope, a new dawn and starting over. That’s a reasonable summary of those now long-ago experiences, for I can recall each one of them and how my life changed each time.
And change it has with what could likely be my final move, to a dream apartment, in a beautiful marsh and tidal creek setting, up high enough in the building to escape most mosquitoes, with my dear old rocking chair situated on an admittedly small balcony, but it’s my little piece of outdoor paradise, peaceful and quiet when I sit out there at 2 or 3 in the morning.
Unlike previous moves, I left this one up to the professionals, but over the course of six months, I had already moved, discarded or stored countless boxes of books, housewares and treasured memorabilia. The movers only had to transport about a dozens items, including furniture, lamps and rugs that I wanted to keep in the family from Mom’s house where I lived for so many years and took care of her. That actual move was this past January. I transitioned from the house to the apartment over a period of months. There was no rush and no hurry. No pressure.
The move was both liberating and bittersweet. I lived on at the house for two years after Mom’s passing, and it was the perfect sanctuary during the lockdown and pandemic. It was like a solitary’s dream come true. Sometimes I wouldn’t see anyone for a week but the grocery delivery person. I took walks in the park every day and had plenty of intellectual stimulation. I was content.
That went on for the first year of the pandemic. Then last summer the reality dawned fully on me that I and my siblings could not, and would not, bear the huge costs of maintaining the sizable home Mom lived in for 25 years, located downtown in the historic district.
So the past year has been busy making
all the preparations and finally closing on the sale of the house last week. I didn’t clean out the rest of the stuff from the kitchen and downstairs apartments until about three weeks ago.
I took a lot of pictures of the “family home,” as I called it, and I spent time lingering in the empty rooms with my memories. Now the house belongs to someone else. It’s all a bit surreal, especially when I drive by as I did yesterday. I saw in my mind’s eye a long ago image of Mom looking out over her garden, which she dearly loved.
Those are sweet memories, long before the days of dementia. But even until near the end, she loved that house, and was happy there in her good moments, which which were quite often actually, despite her infirmities and the ravages of dementia. It was the home she had always dreamed of having, and I’m eternally grateful she was able to remain in that house she loved so much. It’s going to be painful for awhile knowing it’s gone.
But, as with every big move before, time marches on and a new life has begun.
The tidal creek and marsh where I live now:
My empty bedroom on the second floor. Quite a contrast to the days when my books were piled in corners and along the walls after I had no more room in my bookshelves.
The view out my window: