Here in the Northeast, the mourning doves are cooing again. The sound reminds me of the spring I was pregnant with my first son. That year, a couple built a nest in a cherry blossom tree outside the window of our soon to be nursery. When we brought him home from the hospital, two eggs hatched from the nest. The family took a liking to our Urb-Burb neighborhood and set up permanent residence.
Each season, after the first buds appeared my son, Bubbe and I would sit in his rocker, peer down onto the pink and red blossoms, and watch for the doves. When the birds returned, much like my growing boy, they were a little bigger, bolder, and wiser. Our rocker time evolved into a game of I Spy for him and a welcomed mother and son tradition for me.
This spring things are different. One year ago our family said goodbye to the doves, that glorious tree, and our home of two decades; The Hovel.
The Hovel was originally my husband’s place. Mac purchased the quaint, turn of the century Victorian style house in the late eighties using money his father had left him in his will.
For a dozen years, he rented out spare bedrooms to supplement mortgage payments to, as a friend described, “a parade of cretins.” Rock stars, sparrow heads, and a couple of regular guys made up the crew. Together they enjoyed poker games, Tyson fights, dates, beer, and general shenanigans. It was good fraternity house fun.
Around the time Y2K threatened to destroy our technological way of life, domesticity disrupted The Hovel’s rhythm. I moved in. Newly engaged, moderately enthusiastic, and abundantly neurotic I immediately commenced The Hovel’s fumigation.
Curtains went up. Neighbors took notice. The family to our right, who had yet to acknowledge my husband, invited us to go for ice cream. When I planted flowers in the front yard, the elderly lady across the street yelled, “It’s about time!” And after single handedly de-jungling overgrowth that swallowed the side yard, the father to our left said, “Whatta ya know, you have nice property.”
My newly betrothed begrudgingly went along for the ride. Mac eventually got over the domestication hype; but so did I. As projects piled up, responsibilities ensued, and my husband’s stubborn connection to The Hovel became evident, my enthusiasm waned. I wanted out.
Then Bubbe was born, followed a few years later by The Skootch. Our children breathed life into The Hovel. She started to feel more like home.
But as they grew, her quaintness became claustrophobic. I felt burdened by the upgrades and upkeep. I wanted out again. Each time I suggested a move Mac repeated the mantra, “People live with less. We know what we have. It’s a good house.” I cursed him and The Hovel. He was gum stuck in a sneaker groove and I resented it.
Well into my seventh year of scraping, Mac finally caved when my tune changed from lack of space to lack of confidence in the schools. We prepared the house and put her on the market. Two weeks later I received a new lease on life; The Hovel sold.
The evening before we closed, I stopped by to finish cleaning. Our home stood empty; a hollowed, lifeless shell. I went up to the nursery, looked out the window and for the first time, cried at the thought of losing her.
Too sad, I avoided that Urb-Burb neighborhood until recently when I had to pick up a package that was accidentally delivered to The Hovel. The new owner offered to give me a tour.
With the exception of a fresh coat of exterior paint, a stately historic house plaque, and some thoughtful, decorative touches the house was more or less the same. My brain rewinded like a mixed tape of greatest hits.
There was the living room; home to cushion forts, flying sessions, and makeshift mini-golf holes. The kitchen countertop where the boys took their first sponge baths and Bubbe sniffed spices, always tasting the cinnamon. The familiar nicks in the floor cabinet that The Skootch emptied daily to make drum kits from pots and skillets.
We walked through the dining room that hosted two brises, several Seders, countless birthdays and our first Christmas tree, and across the pine wood floor where my little guy took his first bowlegged steps.
I peeked in the narrow, upstairs bathroom where the boys innocently called from the window to their friends below to let them know they were out of the bath and naked, stepped around the iron floor registers whose ducts no doubt still housed my big guy’s marble collection, and admired the dent in the attic carpet where his bed once stood.
Outside, I gazed at the corner of the driveway where Bubbe and The Skootch shot hoops with Mac and smiled at the garden hose that fed a cascading irrigation system that always seemed to run long after I told the boys to stop wasting water.
The owner and I said our goodbyes at my favorite place, the front porch, where Mac and I spent endless evenings just trying to figure it all out.
It was strange to be in a space that I knew intimately, looked similar, still felt a connection with but knew didn’t belong to me.
But it was okay.
It was okay to mourn the loss of my house. The lack of the tangible did not erase the intangible. I no longer have the setting, but I still have my stories. Thankfully, those memories will live for as long as my brain allows.
Leaving The Hovel behind was not a sad occasion but a passing of the torch. She will always be the first home Mac and I made; the place where our children spent their first night after coming home from the hospital, and the place where we loved, laughed, grew, built friendships, and became a family.
To the new owners; as you welcome your newest addition this spring, keep an eye out for those doves. Embrace the blossoms. Write your stories. Cherish your memories. Love The Hovel.
We know you’ll take good care of her.