The week of Thanksgiving, I went to Ann Arbor to say goodbye to my parents’ house, which they are selling after 38 years. It was much bigger than our previous house and so seemed like a palace to a seven-year-old, plus it had a nice kid-friendly feature: You could run through the dining room, living room, front hallway and kitchen in a continuous loop. It had a small bathroom off the library with a push-button lock on the door, a good place to take refuge from one’s pursuers.
It had a fantastic yard, a paradise (as long as someone put in a million hours of gardening every year) with, among other things, fruit trees, a handful of redwoods, vegetable garden, grape arbor, compost heap, sandbox, jungle gym, many flower beds with a gravel path winding around them, a small fountain in the center of the flower beds, an expanse of lawn where croquet or badminton could be played, a tree with large horizontal branches on which children could sit hidden from view, and an enormous willow tree.
In the winter, the thousands of little branches each topped with snow made a magical fairyland of a different sort.
Looking in most directions, you can hardly see another dwelling in the summer, though they are not far away, so there is a fine sense of seclusion and tranquility. Sometimes I meditate while sitting on the wicker couch on the glassed-in sun porch. When I pause to notice the sounds around me, I hear—nothing, for the most part, beyond the quiet ticking of a clock in the next room. There might be the occasional bark of a dog, or a car passing by now and then. So peaceful.
On the second floor, there is quite a large master bedroom, which my parents now use as an office, and three other bedrooms, which non-parents took turns occupying once upon a time. The bedroom I had when we first moved in is right next to the bathroom, so most days began with the sounds of Dad’s morning routine: the glass door to the shower whirring as it slid back and forth on its track, the little plick of the light next to the mirror being turned off.
When I visit, I sleep with my door open a bit so Nigel can come in if she wants, and so I can hear those comforting well-known sounds, along with the sounds of Mom and Dad talking to each other.
I stay in a different room these days, one with its own set of memories: Listening to Jim Morrison sing “Light My Fire,” the song taking on a creepy air as I read about Mordor in The Hobbit series. The school violin that got smashed when I fell on it while climbing up the built-in shelves. This led to my taking up the cello, which seemed more able to defend itself.
In that room, my friend Feo Lee tossed my pet gerbil up in the air—I didn’t realize he was going to do this—and when it came down, naturally enough, it bit me. I still have two little round marks on my arm where it sank its teeth in and held on.
In recent years, I arrived for a visit one late afternoon and the next morning, woke up to a dazzlingly sunny summer day, with lush green everywhere and the white paint of the neighbors’ house glowing. I felt like I’d woken up in heaven, it was so beautiful.
And I was in that room the morning of 9/11, when my father knocked on the door to wake me up, saying, “You might want to get up—history is being made.”
On my recent visit, I wandered from room to room taking photos and having a good cry now and then.
I also had dinner with my friend Amy and her extremely cute new boyfriend, went out to lunch with my father and some of his high school friends, and saw a bunch of DVDs with my folks: several episodes of the TV show Dark Angel, the first two Harry Potter movies (which my mother kindly moved to the top of her Netflix list for my sake; I’m reading the fifth book now), Live Free or Die Hard, The Birthday Girl, Balseros (a documentary about people trying to make it to the United States from Cuba by sea), Citizen Cohn (about Roy Cohn; excellent) and Away from Her, about a woman with Alzheimer’s.
The ending of the latter is somewhat ambiguous. Dad said maybe all questions would be answered in the sequel, Son of Away from Her. Mom thought the sequel might be called Away from Her or Die Hard.
My father made us a tremendous vegetarian Thanksgiving feast, featuring nut loaf with vegan gravy, baked fennel, stuffing, and deviled eggs. Mom made cranberry-orange relish, cookies, cranberry-nut bread, and a perfect pie crust which Dad used to make pecan pie where the nuts go all the way to the bottom instead of sitting on a layer of goo.