November 22, 2013
When I recently said a final goodbye to a home my grandparents had purchased before I was born, it was heartbreaking.
I love the home. But it wasn’t the house details, the yard, or its location. It was those of us who filled it with laughter and stories and good food and lessons.
It was my family that had inhabited this home since 1959 that pulled at my heart.
My mom inherited the Lafayette, Calif., home in late 2007 after my grandpa died. It is on a large, tree-filled property within walking distance to downtown Lafayette.
Across the street is the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail, a wonderful, paved trail of almost eight miles which connects to additional trails. A few-minute drive brings you to downtown Walnut Creek. It is an ideal location.
As for the house, mom had remodeled it so that it had a more open floor plan and an updated kitchen and bath. It was small but lived large.
Mom’s art collection, her great sense of color and the recent updates had made it a gorgeous home I loved to visit.
When she said she wanted to sell it, I was nervous at the prospect of never being able to visit again. But on the bright side, mom planned to move to Grass Valley to be close to me and my brother.
Having her close by and in my life on a more daily basis easily made up for the angst I felt over saying goodbye to the Lafayette house.
Many weeks before her move, I visited to start what I thought would be a painful goodbye. I walked around noting every detail and enjoying the accompanying memories.
In the back yard, mom had improved things but kept the built-in bench at which my grandpa and I had eaten many meals during the summer of 1983. That was the year my grandma died.
I had an internship working for the Oakland Symphony marketing and PR departments. While commuting to Oakland for work, I lived with grandpa in Lafayette for the summer, and hopefully, helped him adjust to his new life without grandma.
A bit further behind the house was an upper terrace with a built-in brick barbecue. I remember many family gatherings there that included up to four generations when I was young. Later, use of this raised terrace evolved into just us kids using it as a play surface and stage for silly performances.
In this home, my brother and I celebrated most of our childhood birthdays, Christmases and other significant events.
My mom had installed a new gas fireplace insert and tile surround, but the same mantle in front of which my brother and I were posed, year after year, remains. The exact tone of a few squeaky floorboards in the guest room (which I kind of considered my room) will echo in my memory forever.
And the smell of the deep, walk-in closet that was still filled with some of grandma’s oil paintings, sewing and other projects, never dissipated.
During my last visit, the weekend before the movers came, I helped with the remaining sorting and packing. Mostly, we worked in silence. At times I would look across a room at mom and see tears flowing down her cheeks. And in “my room” at night, I cried a great deal.
As I backed out of the driveway for the last time, I looked up at the porch where I can still picture grandma and grandpa waving. Driving down the road, I looked at the empty seat next to me. And the real sobbing began.
I wasn’t mourning the loss of the house, but the emptiness beside me. My brother wasn’t with me like we had planned.
My brother had shockingly, unexpectedly died a couple weeks before, less than two weeks after a diagnosis of type II diabetes.
My brother, who was my constant companion during my early years. My brother, who saw the bear in the path just in front of us and turned me around to run in the opposite direction.
My brother, with whom I had climbed, crept and explored the nooks and crannies of this and every house we lived in. My brother, who taught me to throw, to catch and to adequately play any type of ball.
My brother and I were raised in a family that studied world events and discussed things at length. We came away with different opinions and usually voted for different candidates, but with well-considered reasons.
We were different in many ways, but we were intangibly connected. So much so that when I was writing a story called “The Conversation Table” (published in The Union April 30, 2011), about things that occurred almost 40 years ago, he called me and said he couldn’t figure out why he was thinking so much about Deb and Dan and the time we had together.
He hadn’t thought about them in 30 years but was losing sleep due to his brain being filled with memories of those days. I had not told him that I was revisiting those memories myself, and writing a story, until that moment. My brother has appeared at my bedside every time I have been in a hospital and has participated in most important events throughout my life. He left a good life in the Bay Area to live close to me and my husband.
My foundation, my stability, and my strength are rattled. But it isn’t the final goodbye to a mere house that has such power.
My brother, my brother, my brother … It’s the people, it’s never the house.
Erin Miller is the owner of Erin Miller Designs in Grass Valley. She can be reached at 530-477-1401, or at erinmillerdesigns.com.