Shorelines: A deeply moving experience
Susan Carey Dempsey
All the stars seemed to align when we decided to sell our winter home just before Christmas. The five bedroom home on two acres in Pennsylvania was quickly snatched up by a young couple looking for space to raise their two young boys.
Our family had moved on with one son on Shelter Island and two daughters with their families in Manhattan. Instead of remaining custodians of an empty nest, we could help our own little grandchildren grow.
We embraced the idea of downsizing to a one bedroom apartment and letting go of much of the household’s contents: “I don’t want to be obsessed with my possessions,” I confidently stated. In retrospect, I should have just hired an exorcist.
We were fortunate that family members who were in our pandemic capsule could safely and willingly step in to empty the full basement and attic with precious mementos: school pictures, costumes, certificates and baby shoes all had a home.
I found calendars that I used to track swimming classes, exercise classes, and doctor’s appointments. Little did I know I had even saved her, possibly in anticipation of a Supreme Court nomination.
In one I found evidence of a trip to the Bahamas – the day the Challenger blew up – followed by doctor’s appointments and tests for myself, which resulted in a life-saving surgery (you have to read the book). There were lots of magazines, tons of framed pictures of the family – and one of mine with Paul Newman (you really have to read the book).
If you haven’t had this experience, you can’t imagine how difficult it is to find a new home for a house full of things – even in a landfill. 1-800-GOT-JUNK took away a truckload and charged us $ 700 for it. Next, a 20 foot dumpster would be filled, followed by three dumpsters which we filled by the day we finally left.
Finding a thrift store that would take 30 books a day was a game changer – though they would only take novels. Many non-fiction books will find a good home later, probably in the library’s sales room.
After finding the limited furniture we’d need in a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment, we set up a mover to pack a truck for delivery. Another question was what to do with the items that were somewhere in between. Don’t keep – don’t throw.
For them, a yard sale could be the answer, but neither in snowy January nor in a pandemic would we want a yard full of strangers. The solution was a pod – a cube that we could grab and send into a suspended animation somewhere for a few months.
Perhaps a yard sale on the island this spring will be the answer for the piano, other furniture, and the giant stuffed penguin when we’re ready to go. We will see.
As the deadline approached, Murphy’s law was in full swing. Record snowfall pushed everything back a little. After telling our heating oil company that we were moving, we had to call back and order another delivery to get through the last few days.
But the tanker couldn’t drive up our snow-covered driveway, so we had to call the man plowing us one last time. The day before graduation, the title company said we had our passports for identification.
I had mine and my husband, dear life partner, knew exactly where he was – in the box of special items from his top drawer that had ridden into the moving truck and was now somewhere on the way to New York.
A few phone calls later, he was assured that his driver’s license would be accepted if he could also produce a birth certificate. Even on the truck. Eventually, his Medicare card would be accepted upon graduation to confirm its existence.
One last task was on his mind that day. After clearing out the attic, he wanted to sweep it out for the new owners. Minutes later, the sound I heard from above was so loud and scary that I kept telling myself it couldn’t be as bad as it sounded. I found a lovely man in one piece. I was grateful for that. Then he took me to see the hole in the ceiling of the guest room.
I said a few bad words.
You must understand that since we moved into the house 30 years ago, he has warned me and all the children that the attic was only paved in the central area. There was nothing on the sides to prevent a misstep from tumbling through the sheetrock below.
We linked this mishap on FaceTime to our daughter, and she couldn’t hide the smile that played over her lips at the irony that her father had done just that. “Dad is lucky he wasn’t badly injured,” she said. (He’s lucky I didn’t kill him, I thought. Did I say that out loud?)
Fortunately, the new owners went out of their way to accommodate their family that they agreed to a modest monetary adjustment and the closure was completed the next day.
Soon we made our way to Manhattan, where our other daughter had cleaned the new apartment, oversaw the moving company, and greeted each other with pizza and wine. We could wait until the next morning to open the first boxes and understand.
I can’t explain why I couldn’t find an avocado slicer and not a spatula in the box we prioritized when packing. We feel like we’re living in a piece by Neil Simon, getting used to a place where the kitchenette – not the kitchen – can only accommodate one person, and that’s fine.
A long time ago I gave my kitchen privileges to my dear partner, whose culinary skills surpass mine. I’m sure he’ll do something fabulous with this avocado slicer.