Goodbye Old Friend

March 27, 2021

This week, my brother, father, and me said goodbye to our ancestral home in Fombell, Pennsylvania. My 82 year old father had continued to live there on his own, but following a car accident in November 2020, it became clear he would no longer be able to live alone without assistance. The turmoil of the last several months (seeing to his recovery, care, and relocation to an assisted living facility) came to a close this past week as we regrouped at the house to close it out and prepare it for an estate sale In April.

It was no small endeavor, physically or emotionally. The 100+ year old farmhouse has literally been in our family for generations. My dad grew up in it as a kid, and after completing their education in Michigan he and my mom relocated our little family to the farm when I was 5 years old. The house is nestled in a valley and sits on a parcel of 96 acres of rolling Pennsylvania hills with the nearest neighbors about 3/4 of a mile away. There’s a small stream (a “crick” if you’re a western Pennsylvanian) about 200 feet from the house and was my brother’s and my playground/laboratory during our childhood. The hills are filled with hiking paths worn down by our countless adventures and explorations. Looking back, I can’t imagine growing up anywhere quite as idyllic for two curious kids.

Packing up the house was tough. While we are working with a great estate-seller who pretty much handles all the logistics of running the sale and cleaning out all the stuff, deciding on what to let go of and what to keep was an emotional roller coaster. My parents are Boomers and as such, in the early post-depression days, holding on to things was what a lot of people did, so there was a lot of stuff to sort through, and every piece was embedded with memories and stories. Granted, they’re just “things” but those things carried a lot of meaning to me and my family.

One night, after sorting through several shoe boxes of photos, my mind was left awash with so many memories and flashbacks that it made me reflect on how in certain wisdom traditions it’s said that we don’t remember our past lives because the memories would be so overwhelming that it would make it impossible to function in the present. Seems about right.

My dad, jailbreaked from his assisted living facility, spent 3 days with me, Matt, and Shari, and was a trooper considering he hadn’t seen or been back to the house since the day of his accident in November. He helped us sift through all the things we knew were there, and many that we didn’t, gave us history lessons, and shared memories and laughed and cried with us over what a wonderful home it was. Yeah, it’s only a house, but as anyone who ever visited our home can tell you, there was magic there. It was a house filled with love, laughter, tears, joys, silliness, wonderful cooking, dinner parties (my parents loved entertaining) creativity, learning, and happiness. I’m sure many homes have these wonderful qualities – but this was my house, and while I’ve moved through dorm rooms, apartments, and two houses as an adult, I think there’s something unique about the house you grow up in, something that feels as if that special place is encoded into your being, right down to the cellular level.

To be fair, an old house has challenges too. You know — bats, snakes, mice, and loads of little critters all around; an oil furnace that smelled like a petroleum refinery blowing through the heat vents and no air conditioning in the summer; gravel roads through most of my childhood, making bike riding a treacherous, life-or-death undertaking, not to mention the clouds of dust kicked up by passing cars, as well as being the last roads plowed during snow season; an unfinished basement that scared the bejesus out of my 5-53 year old self; well water that tastes like it was drilled into copper mine; and a ladybug infestation that has me convinced that any ladybug alive on this planet originated in my house.

But anyway….

On the last night we were there, I sat up in bed and took a mental tour of each room reflecting on how each held countless memories and stories woven into the space itself. In the realm of parapsychology, the term ‘psychometry’ refers to the supposed ability to ‘read’ or discover facts about a person or environment through physical touch. I can’t say if such abilities exist, but if they do and someone could read the walls of my house, oh, the stories they would tell. And when the playback came to an end, there was only one emotion to feel: gratitude. I was so grateful to have lived there and I recognized that had I grown up somewhere else, there’s no doubt I’d be a very different person, so in a way, I owe who I am to that very special place.

It was a bittersweet departure when we left on Thursday morning. Knowing that another generation of Brady’s won’t live in the house is sad, but the silver lining is that the son of the wonderful man who bought our house will be moving in to start his family there. He has big plans for renovations, reviving the garden, and even raising bees. It’s comforting to know that the property will remain intact, and children will again play in the stream, sled down the hills, and hike the paths like Matt and I did. New eyes will stare at the stars in the light-pollution-free night skies, and new ears will hear the sounds of crickets, frogs, an amazing array of birds, and the running stream enveloped by the background stillness of the countryside. It will be a home again, one that will carry our memories into the future.

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