The End of an Era
On Saturday, I made what may well be my last trip to my childhood home. The bitter weather of February finally convinced my parents, both of whom have been in declining health, to move to a nursing home, a decision they had been resisting for a long time. I can understand the emotion involved: this was my father's home for more than sisxty years, and my mother's since they were married fifty-four years ago. A couple weeks ago, I got the word that they had made arrangements for a household auction, and if there was anything we wanted at the house to come and get it. A family friend has agreed to purchase the house, so that will be another issue dealt with.
For most of us siblings, there was not that much. There's only one piece of furniture that could be considered an heirloom, a small desk that Dad inherited from his grandfather well after we five children were past the furniture-destroying stage. Any pieces I recall from my youth were pretty well worn out and gone long ago. The house itself is of course not the same as my early memories of it. I recall Grandma Zinke's fern-patterned wallpaper (and the miserable time we had scraping it off); the house has been recarpeted, reroofed and resided a couple of times; the old garage, a freestanding single unit sized for Model T's, was replaced by a two-and-a-half vehicle attached unit. The old cottage that once stood at the back of the property and housed various elderly widowed relatives and occasional tenants between incarnations as workshops or the site of our egg business, one of the small businesses that kept us going through harder times, along with radio and TV repair, grocery delivery, and newspaper distribution, is gone, replaced by yet another garage for the now-departed RV and a shed for the lawn tractor. (Wisconsin Dells basically has no building or zoning codes, which explains why our lot now has more square feet of building than lot.) And it certainly isn't the only home I'VE known: besides being away at college, I've since lived in Lancaster, WI; Waupaca, WI; three different places in West Allis; and our current home in Milwaukee. Where I live now is home to me, but it is still a sobering thought that I could perfectly easily never set foot in the Dells again--and not miss it a bit either. Unless you want to do the tourist things, there's really nothing else there. I went to my fifth-year high school reunion, and have resolutely trashed the invitations I've gotten since. (This year is 35, which I think puts us in the "old grad" group now--.)
So I went up and spent a couple of hours poking through drawers, closets, and the corners of the attic. I took away my yearbooks, which I am proud of due to my work on the Annual staff and the fact that they tend to memorialize the few high points of those years. A few books, a couple pieces of the "family jewels" as keepsakes, and that's about it. Not much to show for the first twenty-five years of my life, but then again, I had pretty much already taken away what mattered to me that could be taken.
On the way home, I stopped off and visited Mom and Dad, and saw that, if not very happy, they are at least being well cared for and have some of their things around them, which is better than a lot of people can say.
The question is, what now? Every year of my life, we have spent Thanksgiving and Christmas at the Rihn's. This year, will we be free to honor one of many long-standing invitations, and celebrate Thanksgiving with friends? Could we have Christmas day to ourselves and make a family visit another time? Part of this, I'm sure will depend on my other sibilngs, most of whom have been tied more loosely to the old homestead, due to being on the outs with Dad, foreign vacations at holiday time, living out of state, or surviving relatives on the spouse's side that require equal time. I don't know what will happen. Only time will tell.